Grand Rapids, MI

Gerald R. Ford International Airport

View Project

Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Visit site

As part of the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship (FLITE) program, Sunflower Labs launched its first airport-based Beehive System installation at the Grand Rapids International Airport (GRR). The program is a partnership between Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and Southwest Airlines.

Sunflower Labs provides a “drone-in-a-box” system for property security and inspections. During the FLITE program, the Sunflower Labs Beehive System was used to demonstrate the feasibility of flying a drone safely in an airport environment while providing security and movement monitoring of adjacent airport infrastructure, such as maintenance facilities, public viewing areas, parking lots, and car rental lots.

Sunflower Labs worked together with the Airport Operations Team at GRR to obtain three separate Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) from the FAA allowing the operations supervisor to operate the Beehive System at three different facilities at the airport; the airport maintenance facility, the public viewing area, and the rental car parking lot.




Multiple sites



Sunflower Beehive System at GRR
Setting up the system at GRR
Ready for launch

Out of 20 applicants, Sunflower Labs was selected to join the first cohort of FLITE awardees. Sunflower team ran numerous successful demos in the airport maintenance and observation areas during rain and windy weather conditions. Members of the GRR Airport Innovation Lab Advisory Committee, who represent other airports including San Antonio International Airport and Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, were also in attendance. Seamless, a Grand Rapids-based I.T. consultant, provided proof of concept coordination.

Sunflower Labs' Beehive system was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The Airport Operations team maintained and operated the Beehive System to provide security and surveillance over large areas at the airport. The operational volume of the system was limited by a geofence to maintain a safe buffer from active flights.

At the maintenance facility, the Beehive System was used to monitor activity and to secure buildings and maintenance equipment. The flight tests showed that the Beehive System could be a useful addition to the existing security system at the site. The Beehive System is capable of identifying and counting people, animals and vehicles visible in snapshots taken during flight. Because this system is trained to detect conventional vehicles, it does not identify the maintenance and construction vehicles. However, given appropriate training data, the system could be trained to recognize the expected maintenance vehicles at the facility. The Beehive System could be programmed to alert the operator of unexpected vehicles and unexpected visitors.

At the public viewing area, the system was used to patrol the area and identify and count people and vehicles that were present at different times. The system was tested over several days in order to determine if the system could identify cars and people in different lighting and weather conditions. The tests showed that the Beehive System is useful in protecting an area such as a public viewing area at an airport and that the system can reliably detect and count people and cars that are present.

The tests also proved that the system performs reliably in some of Michigan’s adverse weather conditions. During the tests at the public viewing area, the system was flown in very strong winds and moderate rain.

Along with other Sunflower Labs’ customer installations, such as train maintenance depots and storage facilities, the Beehive System is proven to operate safely and reliably in busy airport environments. While airports excel at managing complex flight schedules, large outdoor spaces are difficult to secure with fixed cameras and foot patrols. This makes airports an ideal use case for Sunflower Labs’ autonomous security solutions.

Download the full report about this installation.

Bee flying above GRR Operations vehicle
Bee flying above Southwest flight
Geofenced site at GRR
Hive at GRR