Purdue team wins FAA's Smart Airport Student Competition

The team, comprised primarily of AAE students, won $25,000 for its "Wheels-Up Solution."

A Purdue University team comprised primarily of students from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics won the Federal Aviation Administration’s Smart Airport Student Competition and $25,000.

Purdue’s team developed the “Wheels-Up Solution,” a smart wheelchair and compatible management system that assists physically impaired travelers in the airport terminal and beyond. The winner was announced at the FAA Forum Dec. 1, a day after the three finalists gave their final presentations.

Team co-leads Eric Eagon and Quinn Joyce, both AAE students, and AAE Professor Dengfeng Sun, the team’s academic mentor, were present for the virtual announcement.

Rendering of wheelchair

“The FAA challenges undergraduate and graduate students across the country to enhance the air travel experience around the airports through technological innovations. It was an extremely competitive process. Winning the first place is a team effort,” Sun said. “I am very grateful to Professor William Crossley, our School’s staff and our industry partners for their support during the competition, which was particularly challenging during COVID-19. I am very proud of our students and enjoyed working with them.”

Winning the competition capped a comprehensive project that started more than one year ago that included a provisional patent, creation of multiple independent study courses in AAE, a crash course in business development and acumen, and practical experience gained beyond the students’ expectations.

“This project turned out to be much more than we bargained for and was one of the best learning experiences of my life,” said Eagon, a master’s student in AAE who received his bachelor’s in May 2020. “Our team did a fantastic job on every aspect of the project: the report, the presentation and the live Q&A.”

The final report included seven students, Eagon, Joyce and AAE students Austin Barrow, Dylan Kerr, James Pannullo and Xingmei Zhu and Department of Computer Science student Brendan Kerr. AAE alumnus Jeff Tyrcha with Ceros Solutions Incorporated was industry mentor. Michele Erwin, president for All Wheels Up, an organization that advocates for wheelchair accessible air travel, also was a resource for the team.

“My human resources professor once told me that ‘people are your greatest asset.’ I don’t think I truly understood his statement until Eric and I tackled this project,” said Joyce, who will graduate in December with his BS from AAE. “We have loved working with our teams and so many others, and we are incredibly proud to win this challenge as Boilermakers.”

Publish date: December 3, 2020