Alum honoured for his self-flying plane innovation

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Dr. Jeremy Wang's (PhD '23, mechanical and mechatronics engineering) ground-breaking mission to prove that planes no longer require humans in the cockpit recently earned him a prestigious national award.  

In recognition of his efforts to advance Canada's first autonomous cargo airline through his Toronto-based startup Ribbit, Wang will be presented the Mitacs Change Agent Entrepreneur Award on May 18 at a ceremony in Waterloo, Ontario. Wang is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award who are being recognized for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians.

Dr. Jeremy Wang (PhD '23) has been awarded the Mitacs Change Agent Entrepreneur Award in recognition of his work with Ribbit, Canada's first autonomous cargo airline.

Dr. Jeremy Wang

“Our goal is to rewire the transportation network to be faster, more efficient and more accessible to remote communities that right now, don’t have reliable air transportation,” said Wang. Wang, along with Ribbit Co-founder and CEO Carl Pigeon, started their careers developing drone technology but soon recognized the need to focus on full-size aircraft to truly make an impact on transportation at scale.

“We’re not talking about shuttling executives from city to city; we’re talking about providing basic access to reliable transportation so that people living in rural and remote communities can get necessities like food and medicine on time,” he explained.

Working in collaboration with Transport Canada since its inception in 2020, Ribbit completed its first gate-to-gate, hands-free flight in 2021 — marking a first for Canada — and has demonstrated nearly 200 hours of successful autonomous flight since then, always with a human safety pilot on board.

The company’s design is based on retrofitting existing fixed-wing planes with a technology stack that allows them to taxi, take off, fly and land autonomously. By removing the pilot, the planes have more room for cargo and eliminate scheduling barriers, freeing airlines to capitalize on nearly 15,000 under-utilized private airports across North America to provide more direct, non-stop flights between remote destinations without the need to schedule pilots or travel through major airport hubs.

Recently, the company signed letters of intent with six leading online wholesaler/retailers serving the north and is working with Transport Canada to achieve regulatory approval to move forward with commercial flights. The company is already approved for flight testing without a human safety pilot on board and expects to complete its first truly autonomous flight next summer.

“Our technology has been tested, the regulatory framework is in place and there’s a real need for this. It’s time for autonomous air cargo to take flight,” he said.

“A successful innovation economy cannot exist without entrepreneurs. Startups drive innovation in Canada, they dream big and push boundaries, bringing research from ideation to commercialization,” said Mitacs CEO John Hepburn. “Mitacs is extremely proud to play a role in supporting small businesses and emerging entrepreneurs through our continued investment in talent, research, and development. It is a pleasure to celebrate the incredible accomplishments and impact of our 2023 Mitacs Entrepreneur Award winners.”

Go to Making a technological leap in air transportation for a fuller story on Ribbit's autonomous flight technology.