ClearFlame’s ethanol conversion kit for heavy trucks, Xwing’s crewless aircraft, and more.

From:Fast Company By Fast Company Staff

Even in a world gone increasingly virtual, physical transportation isn’t going anywhere. These organizations are working to bring it into the future, whether by getting heavy trucks off diesel, adding intelligence to concrete, or deploying autonomous vehicles for product deliveries—in the air or on the road.

The companies behind these technologies are among the honorees in Fast Company’s Next Big Things in Tech awards for 2022. See a full list of all the winners across all categories here.


ClearFlame Engine Technologies
For helping heavy trucks say goodbye to diesel
Thanks to its enormous installed base and prolonged driving distances, heavy trucking lags passenger cars in moving to zero-emissions operations. Geneva, Ill.-based ClearFlame Engine Technologies, however, is readying an alternative off-ramp from diesel fuel: a series of engine modifications that allow current-model trucks to run on ethanol sourced from corn at no loss in performance.

For making drone delivery a reality
The skies are starting to fill with startups trying to accelerate last-mile logistics with drone delivery, but Virginia Beach, Va.-based DroneUphas a stronger endorsement than most for its platform: a 2021 unspecified investment from Walmart, followed by the launch of drone delivery service ($3.99 for up to 10 pounds) that should reach 34 sites across six states by the end of 2022.

Purdue University
For making concrete self-aware through sensors
A Purdue project led by civil engineering professor Luna Lu aims to provide highway users with a gift that will keep on giving: concrete made self-aware through sensors tossed into the roadbed before the pour. These durable sensors will first report when the concrete has cured sufficiently, then continue to gauge its strength and alert when repairs are coming due.

For letting existing planes fly without a crew
Despite what the moniker of this San Francisco startup might suggest, Xwing’s vision of autonomous aviation doesn’t involve futuristic drones out of any sci-fi movie. Instead, it retrofits existing aircraft with its Superpilot system to allow for uncrewed cargo delivery (still supervised by ground-based operators), lowering the cost of short-range air transport and alleviating the pilot shortage.

For delivering blood and COVID-19 vaccines by drone


For teaching robots to pick the right products
In the age of app-based shopping, warehouse logistics systems have become crucial. Exotec makes a system of shelving racks, bins, and small robots that pick and gather products for orders. Exotec’s robots, which can carry up to 66 lbs, can move around on the warehouse floor and also climb up the sides of the racks to retrieve bins containing products.

Locus Robotics
For giving warehouses a choice of specialized robots
During the pandemic, when consumers began to rely heavily on online shopping and home delivery, demand for automated warehouse logistics and robotics systems went way up. Locus Robotics was there to fill the need with its suite of three autonomous mobile robots, each with a unique skill set—such as the ability to tote 3,000-lb payloads—along with its bot management platform.


For building an autonomous vehicle tuned for last-mile delivery