A team of Binghamton University students led by professor William Ziegler won first place in a national design competition hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for the fourth consecutive year.
The team’s winning proposal was to develop a smartphone application to improve day-to-day runway maintenance. The application would allow someone to see all of the information regarding a specific problem spot on any runway if they had the correct authorization, said Andrew Cholewa, a captain of the BU team.
Cholewa explained that the application, “Web-Based Smartphone Application for Pavement Analysis: A Geographic Information System Approach,” could potentially make airport runways safer.
“The application works by allowing the pavement inspector to take a photo of a problem area, and assign a rating using the smartphone,” Cholewa said. “The application then uploads this information to a central server. From this server you can view the history of any given problem spot on any given runway at that particular airport, assuming you have the authorization to do so.”
This year 57 American colleges and universities and 1,024 students participated. Although individual students can compete, and have won in the past, BU always competes as a team.
On top of taking home their fourth consecutive first place, this year BU also earned second place in the runway safety/runway incursions challenge for their entry “Runway Excursion Modeling and Analysis: A Web-Based Geographic.”
Ziegler, an associate professor of computer science, said he first learned about the contest in 2008 and decided to enter. When the winners were chosen in 2009, Ziegler’s classes won first place in two different categories. Since then, his teams have placed in at least the top three each year.
Ziegler said he uses the competition to educate students in the etiquette of professional language and teamwork. His students are required to work together to write the 70-page proposal required for the competition.
“The entries that we submit are anywhere from 60 to 70 pages long,” Ziegler said. “It’s all about writing and communicating the idea.”
Cholewa said writing the proposals was challenging, but rewarding.
“Basically, it was a very frantic couple of months, and there were more than a few times where I was ripping my hair out,” he said. “However, it was also immensely satisfying.”
Zeigler recruited the help of Carl Beardsley, the commissioner of aviation at the Greater Binghamton Airport, to help his team with the competition.
“It was required as part of the competition to prove that we were working with airport aviation personnel,” Ziegler said. “I just called Broome County and asked, ’Any ideas about who I can call about the airport?’”
Beardsley said he agreed to help Ziegler because it was an opportunity to bring real world experience into a college course.
Ziegler attributes his team’s continued success to their hard work.
“I don’t treat it as a regular class,” Ziegler said. “In a sense, I’m more of a coach as opposed to a professor in the way that I teach this.”