Deborah Navarro of AirLev Answers Four Questions for Founders
AirLev is a transportation startup in stealth mode, composed of engineers from UT & MIT. They’ve developed a system leveraging the Hyperloop levitation technology they pioneered to move goods and people, autonomously, with zero carbon emissions, at high-speeds.
1. Why did you start AirLev? Do you remember the moment when you first thought of the idea?
Transportation is a privilege. It’s access to experience, resources, relationships and time. I grew up in a town of 3,000 people that did not have public transportation. I didn’t travel outside of the state or country until i was in college. I knew my worldview was limited and I wanted to do everything in my power to change that. Transportation networks are analogous to the internet and the transfer of information in many ways. Our transportation web is very slow, inefficient, and takes far too much energy to power right now. On top of this, we’re living in a growing and global economy. We have a need to transfer goods rapidly and sustainably. In the age of Amazon, same or next day delivery is expected.
At AirLev, our long-term vision is to transport people through the Hyperloop. To further R&D, I thought of the idea to move heavy goods autonomously in warehousing and fulfillment from my home in Austin TX, before moving to New York, to dive in and explore this concept. There is a high-demand for warehouse space optimization and 24 operation. Moving heavy goods today is energy inefficient, costly, and unsafe. Our air-levitation systems are highly customizable to meet market needs.
My work in the Hyperloop space kicked off with Guadaloop, a research group I co-founded in college at UT. Our team built the world’s first air-levitated Hyperloop vehicle and recently our research was adopted by MIT Hyperloop II and a collaboration was formed. I’m an advisor to both research groups and AirLev sponsored the novel air-levitation systems the MIT Hyperloop II- UT pod leveraged, to race at SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition this summer. The team was recognized with 1st Innovation Award globally and 1st in the U.S overall. This served as AirLev’s proof of concept. We accomplished our goal of showcasing air-levitation technology as a viable contender for transport.
2. How do you see AirLev impacting how we live our lives?
Sustainable based technology is a must. It’s far easier to improve incrementally on existing technology like cars and trains but these are resource-intensive vehicles that are costing our planet heavily and are no longer suitable for the growing demands of modern society.
AirLev is pushing R&D in the autonomous transportation space forward and this field will inevitably impact our lives on many levels. In 2018, there were 37 billion tons of CO2 recorded and transportation was the 2nd leading cause. 95% of transportation comes from petroleum-based fuels. In contrast, AirLev systems emit zero-emissions. Bringing this research into fruition is paving the way for change in the present but long-term success in building Hyperloop networks to connect the world would significantly reduce our carbon footprint in the future.
3. How have New York and Newlab positively impacted the development of your business?
I often tell people that finding Newlab was like finding a portal. Since I’ve entered this space, I exert the same amount of time and energy as normal, yet, I yield far more, because of the resources and network that I have access to.
Newlab is a garden for innovation. Walking through Newlab every day, and experiencing the exciting developments of our beautiful community, is inspiring. I’m grateful to be in an environment that continues to challenge what I believe is possible. It motivates me to break away from the norm, to form independent thought, and work on ideas that inspire me and that create far more than monetary value. The people are my favorite part, I’ve never worked somewhere where I felt more at home.
4. What do you see as your responsibility to make technology ethical and accessible to all?
I believe I have a greater responsibility than most to make technology ethical and accessible because it’s a value I hold close. The small border town I grew up in was devoid of technology and consisted of many underrepresented demographics. This experience allowed me to develop empathy for people like me and unlike me who are often left out of the equation in technology development. In the case of Hyperloop, I believe it’s imperative that I’m in the decision room as this technology is developed, to ensure it accessible for all people, not just the privileged and able-bodied.
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