It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a — drone? Upstate New York may see more of the electronic aircraft in the near future, as an alumnus-run company takes to the skies with a $1 million grand prize grant from the GENIUS NY competition.
Five teams pitched projects to a panel of judges in Syracuse last month, and Italian firm Sentient Blue — founded by Saïf-Deen Akanni ’90 — emerged with the top bid. The state-sponsored award goes to initiatives to up the development of unmanned systems technology within New York in hopes of boosting the economy as well.
Sentient Blue was founded in Parma, Italy, in 2017, according to its website, and has since expanded out of Europe and into the United States. The company lists its main goal as the development of “efficient, more environmentally friendly micro gas turbine based power plants,” which can be used in unmanned aerial vehicles — drones.
These microturbines loosely mimic larger ones found in jet aircraft, while employing techniques to increase efficiency and cut down on fuel, according to Sentient Blue’s website.
Sentient Blue’s name itself takes after its founder’s interests — “sentient” harkens back to the importance of universal life Akanni discovered while watching the show Star Trek, while “blue” stands in for the other side of earth-saving green technology: air and water.
Akanni earned his undergraduate degree in engineering at Cornell’s Ithaca campus before studying in London. He described the feeling of returning to New York as “coming home” to the Cornell Chronicle, a University-run publication.
Akanni, who is also the CEO and chief technology officer of his company, called nomination for the award a “milestone” in a Sentient Blue press release after finalists were announced in December.
The company’s research and development facilities will be based in both Syracuse and Rome, New York, according to the Chronicle, from where it will seek to grow its presence in the region. The GENIUS NY prize stipulates that winners must run operations out of central New York for a year at minimum.
In total, GENIUS NY awarded $3 million, splitting an addition $2 million between four finalists at half a million dollars each. The program is administered by The Tech Garden and CenterState CEO in Syracuse.