Houston airports deploy disinfecting robots in their terminals

now boarding: automation

Six Breezy One robots have landed in Houston's airports. Photo via buildwithrobots.com

What stands four feet tall, measures 22 inches wide, and weighs about 265 pounds? One of the six robots that disinfect George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport and William P. Hobby Airport.

Last year, the Houston Airport System spent close to $1 million for six Breezy One robots made by Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Build With Robots. The robots, each costing $160,000, now help the airports’ human crews keep the two airports sanitized.

George Bush Intercontinental has four of the robots, and Hobby has two.

“Breezy One is an autonomous disinfecting robot. It moves on its own and disinfects any route that someone chooses at the push of a button. It disperses a disinfectant fog which reaches all surfaces, penetrates fabrics, and even disinfects the air,” according to Build With Robots.

The robot disinfects germy surfaces such as tables, chairs, doorknobs, and keyboards. A Breezy One robot can decontaminate more than 150,000 square feet of space in one hour with a patented, environmentally safe disinfectant, purportedly eliminating 99.9999 percent of viruses and bacteria. New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories developed the disinfectant.

Build With Robots, founded in 2017, launched Breezy One in 2020 at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The company developed the technology in conjunction with the City of Albuquerque’s Aviation Department. In January, Build With Robots announced it raised $5 million in funding. That was preceded by a seed round of about $1 million.

Before the disinfectant-filled robots go about their work, members of the Build With Robots team map the buildings where they’ll operate autonomously. The team members then load the maps into the robots. The robots follow commands given by a facility’s custodial team.

Traci Rutoski, manager of custodial services at Hobby, says Build With Robots “is providing us with the best tools to keep our passengers, employees, and stakeholders safe.”

Sam Rea, terminal manager at George Bush Intercontinental, says the Breezy One robots have enabled the airport to step up cleanliness in the COVID-19 era.

“With the onset of the pandemic, we needed to explore new and innovative solutions so that when people come through the airports, whether for work or travel, they feel safe and secure,” Rhea says in a news release.

Augusto Bernal, a spokesman for the Houston Airport System, says that while the disinfecting robots have been effective, there are no plans to add more of them.

Aside from the Houston Airport System and the Albuquerque airport, customers of Build With Robots include HVAC manufacturer Goodwin’s 4.2-million-square-foot operation at Daikin Texas Technology Park in Waller, Mount Vernon ISD in East Texas, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and Albuquerque’s Electric Playhouse amusement center. The robots, which can be purchased or leased, are designed to sanitize airports, arenas, stadiums, school buildings, and other heavily trafficked places.

Goodwin has installed one robot in Waller.

“This robot’s going to be able to clean 200,000 square feet of office and conference rooms in two, maybe two-and-a-half hours,” Charlie Strange, facilities manager at Goodwin’s Waller operation, told The Verge last November. “It would take my team all night long to do that — wiping down every surface by hand.”

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Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.