University of Michigan Climate and Space Science Professor Nilton Renno loves solving problems. And as he readily admits, “I’m always looking for problems related to my research interests that are fun to work on and can have a significant impact on society.”
Renno’s first startup, Electric Field Solutions, was based on electric field detection technology he developed for NASA’s missions to Mars. Some years later, NASA’s planned landing in Mars’ polar region piqued his interest in ice detection. As a private pilot, he was keenly aware of icing problems and their potentially deadly consequences. “One winter day,” he recalls, “I found my plane frozen on the taxiway and I thought: icing is a problem worth working on.”
Within a year, Renno had led an invention report describing a technology for detecting the presence of ice, super-cooled water and snow. U-M Tech Transfer helped him file three patent applications for monitoring ice detection in clouds; on aircraft components; across other modes of transportation; and on roads, bridges, runways, and other surfaces. Working with U-M Tech Transfer staff, an approach to commercialize his ideas was constructed and developed.
In 2016, Renno launched Intelligent Vision Systems (IVS) in collaboration with Dexter Research, a local Michigan firm, to develop technology to detect black ice and activate traction control and braking systems for individual vehicles, as well as function as an infrastructure warning system on roads, bridges, runways, and parking lots. IVS is working with several leading aerospace and automotive manufacturers and automotive suppliers to better understand the integration of ice detection technology with their products.
Renno credits U-M Tech Transfer with playing a central role in bringing the technology to market. “Transforming a research discovery into a marketable product is not easy,” he says. “U-M Tech Transfer provided me the encouragement and resources, from mentoring to intellectual property protection to development funding. It’s great to have these resources and expertise to help transfer my ideas to market.”
The URC is an incredible asset for our industry, state, and citizens in terms of the scale of R&D conducted at its universities in critically important areas. Medical and healthcare discoveries with the potential to improve and save lives position Michigan as a top state for innovation in the life, medical and health sciences.
The University Research Corridor showcases Michigan’s world class universities, economic competitiveness, and scientific breakthroughs being made every day in our state. This innovative partnership is creating jobs, fostering relationships with all types of businesses, from our largest corporations to smallest entrepreneurial businesses, and driving innovation in all sectors of our economy.
I think certainly there has been an uptick in entrepreneurship in the state, and I think a lot of that is owed to the URC getting more involved in economic development in the last 10 years.