Computer science students take top prize in FAA Design Competition
By Ashley Smith
For the second year in a row, Binghamton University computer science students have come out on top in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Design Competition for Universities.
Two teams entered: one received a first place, and the second an honorable mention; an impressive feat considering they were up against competition from 35 universities.
"It's pretty amazing. And kind of surprising," said William Ziegler, associate professor of computer science, and the teams' advisor. "We compete against some of the top aeronautical and aviation departments and colleges in the United States."
The competition requires the students to develop a 70-page design proposal in just 14 weeks – a perfect complement for Ziegler’s technical writing course.
"I've always been a believer in experiential learning and the FAA Design Competition is the perfect vehicle,' he said.
The winning design, titled 'Utilizing Wind Energy to Provide Runway Lighting to Remote Airports," captured the top spot in the Airport Environmental Interactions category. Binghamton defeated teams from schools such as the Department of Aviation and Technology at San Jose State University and the College of Technology Aeronautics Division at Kent State University.
The students – lauded for adapting existing technology in new and practical ways – calculated energy production by a wind turbine, power drawn by runway lights and battery life. Using LED instead of incandescent lights meant their system required less electricity.
The second team from Ziegler's course received an honorable mention for its submission, "Using Panoramic Photography and Digital Imaging to Detect Foreign Object Debris on Runways" in the Airport Operation and Maintenance challenge category.
The students partnered again this year with Carl Beardsley, Greater Binghamton Airport (GBA) commissioner of aviation; Chad Nixon, vice president at McFarland-Johnson, Inc.; and several team members from each organization.
"It takes everybody. If any of those pieces are gone, it doesn't happen," Ziegler said.
While the competition is designed to entice students to address airport operations and infrastructure issues and needs, they also come away with critical lessons in management structure, team decision making and problem solving.
The project takes these computer science students out of their comfort zone, Ziegler noted.
"But they're really brilliant students who have also been taught to tackle new things," he said.
The first-place team recently presented its work to the FAA at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture – billed as the world's greatest aviation celebration – in Oshkosh, Wis.