The FAA Challenge for College Students

From left to right, John Dulski, Mihir Patel and Harley Jiang are all academic freshmen in UND’s commercial aviation program. This past fall, they came together to create a potentially winning concept for a national design competition. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

At one time, IBM’s Watson Labs had a common area wall adjacent to the cafeteria where ideas were written down on a chalk board for other scientists to look at and comment on. Then Watson Labs did an interesting thing, they added an idea wall inside the reception area and the ideas became bolder and revolutionary rather than evolutionary.    

Why did this happen? As it turned out, many visitors were interns or other young and aspiring engineers and scientists, and we all know what that means; ideas and thinking that were outside the existing plans and processes and without the pressure of failure. 

We also know that as careers age, so does the inclination to take risks. Paying off mortgages and  college tuitions are great incentives in risk reduction and proposing change only when sure you are treading on safe ground. 

The road to success and profitability for any company or for any government agency is to maintain a healthy and open attitude about change. They need to keep on changing as the people they service change. For private business, it is how you stay alive, and not end up laying off thousands of people, and for government or government agencies, it is how you stay relevant. 

The FAA is sponsoring the “FAA Challenge” to recognize students with the ability to demonstrate innovative thinking focused on improving the efficiency, effectiveness, and utilization of smart technology in and around the airport environment while enhancing the overall traveling experience.

The FAA is using this competition to stimulate and advance innovation in aviation research; promote the development of a robust aviation workforce to support a growing and evolving aerospace system; develop a pipeline to fill current and projected shortages via partnerships with academia and industry; and to drive a passion for aviation in today’s youth of all ages and backgrounds.

The total cash prize is $25,000. Travel Reimbursement up to $6,000 will be awarded to each of the three finalist teams to help offset the cost of traveling to the 2021 FAA Challenge Forum and Awards Ceremony to demonstrate their concepts. A $25,000 prize will be presented to the lead university of the winning team.

The FAA intends to incentivize university-level students at accredited United States-based colleges and universities to think creatively in developing solutions to transportation technology challenges while addressing the human factors aspects of the traveler’s experience, and to share those innovations with the broader community.

Universities should consider the cutting-edge needs of the FAA and smart airports of the future, focusing on key emerging technology areas of health-smart airports, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), data analytics, and autonomous robotics systems. 

Each team should propose one (1) of the four (4) following themes:

  • Theme 1: Increased Sanitation and Hygiene Practices for Health-Smart Airports:The COVID-19 pandemic has caused public concern regarding air travel due to potential spread of the virus through human contact, surfaces, and air particles. Smart airports of the future should be designed to reduce the spread of pathogens. Innovative solutions are sought for integrating health screening into the security process. 
  • Theme 2: Innovative Uses for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) at Airports The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) has increased exponentially over the past decade. Airports of the future could safely use UAS in a variety of functions.
  • Theme 3: Smart Airport Data Analytics: Data analytics is an emerging field of analyzing raw data in order to make conclusions and is being used nationwide to discover and predict trends. Airports are complex systems rich in data that could be used to improve operations, passenger experience, and safety.
  • Theme 4: Innovative Uses for Autonomous Robotics Systems at Airports: Autonomous and semi-autonomous robotics systems are being used throughout industry to improve productivity and perform potentially hazardous operations. High levels of reliability and trusted autonomy are required for such systems to be integrated into airport operations. 

If anyone in your family is interested in participating in this exciting aviation opportunity, it is important that you understand all the date cut-offs and requirements by going to the FAA website that describes the competition:  2021 FAA Challenge: Smart Airport Student Competition


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