About 2,000 attendees at the 10th annual NWA Technology Summit in Rogers watched Gravity Industries showcase its flight backpack with Paul Jones, flight training manager, taking off Tuesday morning (Oct. 31) in the Rogers Convention Center parking lot.
Jones demonstrated flying in a roped off area approximately 8 to 10 feet in the air encircling the crowd and with 7 jet packs, two on each arm and three in the backpack where the fuel was also contained.
Based in the United Kingdom with an office in California, Gravity was one of approximately 100 vendors at this year’s show technology summit. Gravity was founded in March 2017 by Richard Browning, who was a commodities trader in the UK before this venture. The startup attracted attention and capital early on, attracting $650,000 in the first two months of operation from Tim and Adam Draper, early investors in Tesla and Skype. Gravity also closed $6 million in Series B funding.
Maria Vildavskayam, director of operations at Gravity, said she knew Browning while working as a commodities trader in the United Kingdom and became interested in his efforts to build an aircraft-powered pack that could help people fly.
“It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to me, so I joined the company and it’s been a crazy ride,” Vildavskayam said in an interview after the protest.
She said there were 20 people in the company. Most are based in the UK and his work takes him and other employees around the world. They found Bentonville after Browning attended the UP.Summit held in Bentonville in the summer of 2022. Vildavskayam said the jet suit is patented and made from carbon fiber, aluminum and polypropylene printed in 3D to achieve great strength and minimal weight. The combination can run on jet fuel, diesel or biofuel and has five to seven turbines. Typical flight time is between 4 and 7 minutes depending on conditions.
She said the operator with maximum fuel and good conditions can stay awake longer. The company has worked in the field of search and rescue, as operators can fly to remote locations at low altitudes. She said flying can still be safe in 45 mph winds, rain and low visibility. The company also works with the military on special operations around the world. The company hopes that the entertainment industry will be interested in possible action films and even promotional displays in the future.
Gravity’s California training site is located in Bakersfield where consumers can purchase flight packages and complete training to try out the experience. The company is also starting to attract interest from extreme racing enthusiasts and has held races in countries like Australia. The Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce invited Gravity to consider hosting a race in Northwest Arkansas in the future. Vildavskayam said if there was enough consumer interest, it was a possibility.
“I would love to see us doing some work in this beautiful state, maybe search and rescue or even racing. We would love to come back,” she said.
Several sessions on the second day of the summit focused on cybersecurity. Arvest Bank, Verizon and Meta each held sessions on this topic on Tuesday. The financial losses suffered by businesses and the increasing sophistication of hackers continue to intensify. Last year, U.S. consumers reported 800,944 cases of cybercrime, according to the FBI’s annual report. Phishing attacks were the most popular with 300,497 complaints reported. Total losses from phishing attacks exceeded $10.3 billion.
Pete Huitsing, a security engineer at Meta who lives in northwest Arkansas, said the pace of innovation is such that he often feels like he sees more in a week or month than others would have seen in their lifetime. He said bad actors often have a head start on companies trying to fend off threats because they have all the tools, such as generative artificial intelligence, to help them be more effective as well.
“I fear that larger adversaries will also have a disproportionate impact on smaller organizations in the future because they don’t have the teams in place to defend themselves,” he said.
Huitsing said small and medium-sized businesses should partner with companies and purchase protection because the sophistication of the dark side continues to improve and once they enter, it’s too late.
Last year, 493.33 million ransomware attacks were detected by organizations worldwide.
Health care is one of the most costly areas for breaches in 2022. Washington Regional Information Technology Director Bill Walker said that of the 30 technology employees in hospital systems, 6 are focused on cybersecurity and the fight against threats. He added that as more companies and vendors use large open source language models in their applications and data, the risk of breach may also increase. Washington Regional said it carefully controls access for anyone trying to obtain data at any time. He said the threat is real and requires investment and vigilance.