Company creates new GPS system for crop-dusting airplanes

PROGRAM: Brad Looy, owner of Velocity Systems, and Joe Wozniak, chief software engineer, show off a interface running their GPS program VeriFly. With three separate tools, VeriFly was created to provide GPS for pilots who crop dust. (Pioneer photos/Eric Dresden)

PROGRAM: Brad Looy, owner of Velocity Systems, and Joe Wozniak, chief software engineer, show off a interface running their GPS program VeriFly. With three separate tools, VeriFly was created to provide GPS for pilots who crop dust. (Pioneer photos/Eric Dresden)

BIG RAPIDS — For Brad Looy, necessity truly is the mother of invention.

After being asked to create a GPS for a customer, Looy slowly began creating a major product.

CREATION: Brad Looy, owner of Velocity Systems, looks at a computer chip for a project the company is working on for a client.

CREATION: Brad Looy, owner of Velocity Systems, looks at a computer chip for a project the company is working on for a client.

“We built a GPS just by the virtue of needing one for those (first) two aircrafts,” he said. “There were systems out there, but they were inadequate and too expensive with old technology. We decided to really focus on innovation and expanding the envelope of this GPS technology and create the best GPS we could.

“When we realized we were able to do that, we decided we could make a product.”

Looy, owner of Velocity Systems, has dedicated five years of his life to developing new technology in agricultural aviation. Now, the company has developed VeriFly, which is a three-part GPS unit for crop-dusting airplanes.

“I started it on the side, part-time and still was working as an engineer in Grand Rapids,” Looy said. “I quit my job two years into it and started full time on developing this product and this company.”

And so, for four years, engineers, programmers and manufacturers for the company have all shared their “secret-lair,” a room with roughly 225 square feet inside a hanger at Roben-Hood Airport, creating and building their product.

VeriFly features three items: a MiniBox, which houses many of the GPS components; a lightbar, which is display that is mounted on the nose of the aircraft and has an indicator to tell pilots where to fly; and touch-screen display, which sits inside the airplane to give the user interface.

With demand high for VeriFly, the group has worked long hours to push for its dream.

“In the past two years it has really accelerated,” Looy said.

That’s meant bringing in new people to help and offering internships to Ferris State University students.

“We’ve been adding on people, we’ve been adding on talent and capabilities and building the product and building the company,” Looy said.

Two years ago, Joe Wozniak joined as the chief software engineer..

“I’m really excited about his vision,” Wozniak said about Looy. “To work with Brad has been a pleasure.”

Integration will be key and that could mean working with other companies in the future, Looy said

“We see a lot of opportunity in the agriculture aviation market,” Looy said. “We see a lot of collaboration in our future with other players in that market.”

The company’s production manager, Ken Houpt, will keep busy as the orders keep coming, Looy said.

SMALL SPACES: Although they work in a room as big as most garages, those working at Velocity Systems believe they've produced the next big thing in agricultural aviation with an item called VeriFly, which is a three-part system giving pilots that crop dust better information.

SMALL SPACES: Although they work in a room as big as most garages, those working at Velocity Systems believe they’ve produced the next big thing in agricultural aviation with an item called VeriFly, which is a three-part system giving pilots that crop dust better information.

About a month ago, the company had a moment where it began to see the light at the end of the tunnel after attending to the National Agriculture Aviation Association’s show in Reno, Nev.

“We went there and when we showed our product. To have them affirm that we were on track and we had built something they wanted, they would shake our hand and say, ‘You got it right,'” Looy said. “Their faces lit up and we knew we had scored.”

Looy called the market “wide open,” saying that many who crop dust aren’t satisfied with their GPS because of a lack of innovation and quality.

“They’re looking for a system to take them into the future,” he said.

After exhibiting at the show, there is now a waiting list for product.

“We see it on the horizon,” Looy said. “We’re very excited about that, but it has been a long hard road. It’s not time to rest yet.”

A new chapter 

Looy called the recent success “a new chapter” for the company.

“We’re moving into manufacturing now of this product, but we have a vision for other products and more growth opportunities,” he said.

Wozniak sees a similar picture.

“In the big picture, it’s just one pass into, hopefully, even bigger things,” Wozniak said. “Our desire is to expand.”

Although they both see it as a first major step, they also know that the success could mean more work and new challenges.

Because of its different parts, VeriFly also has multiple capabilities as well.

“It’s designed to be versatile and powerful,” Looy said.

One part of the system is the MiniBox, which can be used for vehicle tracking with police cruisers or asset tracking.

“For police, fire, ambulance or commercial fleets, that system and the software we’ve developed to go with it … can enable us to move into other markets,” Looy said.

The company also works on many other projects, including a gate control device for planes for dispensing dry materials, like seed.

Despite being in such closed quarters, the group still manages to have fun and enjoy their time together. They begin every morning with a prayer.

WORKING: Joe Wozniak, chief software engineer for Velocity Systems, looks at code in the company's office in a hanger at Roben-Hood Airport.

WORKING: Joe Wozniak, chief software engineer for Velocity Systems, looks at code in the company’s office in a hanger at Roben-Hood Airport.

“We’ve had a comradely, we’ve had a team spirit and we’ve also had a unity,” Looy said. “It takes all of us with our different talents and abilities. … We trust in God for our everyday needs, understanding and capabilities because, really, where we are at is beyond our capabilities.”

In three weeks, the company will move across the airport to the community hanger, where it will have 2,200 square feet — 10 times the space it has now. In fact, the new space will have a restroom too, so the employees won’t have to run across the airport to the main office for a break.

The move will give the company an opportunity for more manufacturing and potential to hire more people.

“We are looking forward to having more space,” Looy said.

Although Looy and Wozniak have had jobs with better pay, they both love what they are working toward right now.

“We both have had much higher-paying jobs and much more comfortable positions in corporations, with all the benefits,” Looy said. “But, being here and starting this and living on rice and beans really, we feel, will pay off.”

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