Ali Attarwala thought the beauty of the idea lay in its simplicity.
“I thought it was a pretty simple idea,” Attarwala said. “But a lot of times it’s the simple things that are most effective.”
Attarwala, an aerospace engineering major, was part of a team that developed an idea for an app that would allow airplane passengers reserve a place in line for the bathroom without leaving their seat. The app integrates with the in-flight entertainment system, and the team hopes it would be especially helpful for travelers with mobility or medical issues.
“This idea has a lot of potential,” he said, “because it solves many problems that people experience today.”
Boeing judges agreed.
They recently voted the seatback bathroom queue app the winner of the second annual Boeing Innovation Challenge. The challenge invites engineering majors from across the U.S. to come up with solutions to real-world aviation issues.
“What we were looking for – and we found – is for the students to demonstrate not just technical, academic and problem-solving knowledge, but also innovation, ideation and the ability to work together with a cross-functional team,” said Mithra Sankrithi, from Boeing Commercial Airplanes Product Development, who oversaw the challenge.
In the spirit of cross-functional coordination, Attarwala’s team – known as the “Cosmic Trojaneers” – was made up of five students from UT-Austin, the University of Southern California and Purdue University who didn’t know each other before the challenge.
“We all collaborated equally,” said Vy Le, a Purdue biomedical engineering major and member of the Cosmic Trojaneers, “and I feel like we were all really enthusiastic with the ideas, so that really helped the process.”
Boeing received more than 70 ideas from student teams. Company judges – along with student votes – narrowed the entries down to 10 preferred ideas from students at eight universities, forming new multi-university teams. Boeing invited 51 students from those universities to the Puget Sound to develop their teams’ ideas with the support of Boeing topic experts during a two-day hackathon, and then pitch them to a panel of Boeing judges on day three at the Future of Flight Museum in Mukilteo, Wash.
Boeing challenged the students to come up with ideas in three categories: simplifying commercial airplanes; creating efficient, adaptable and flexible airplane cabins; and cross-industry aircraft innovation. The entries were partly judged on creativity, technical content and relevance to challenge topics.
“It’s a great opportunity for new students who will become the Boeing engineers of the future to lead us on to our role as aerospace leaders for the world,” Sankrithi said.
Boeing also hopes the Innovation Challenge will be an effective recruiting tool, and the company will offer approximately 15 internships to student participants.
Joshua Tharakan, a Texas A&M University student, hopes the challenge will someday lead to a job at Boeing.
“I grew up loving airplanes,” he said. “You want to be able to work on cool stuff with all these engineers.”
By Edward Muir