Fall 2010

FAA has high regard for student ideas

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Binghamton University doesn’t have an aeronautics program. It doesn’t even have the word “technology” in its title. But for the second year in a row, Binghamton students have earned first place in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Design Competition for Universities.

This year the team of computer science students in the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science designed a means to use wind energy to provide runway lighting to airports in remote locations.

“It’s pretty amazing. And kind of surprising,” says William Ziegler ’76, associate professor of computer science and the team’s advisor. “We compete against some of the top aeronautical and aviation departments and colleges in the United States.”

Binghamton was up against 35 other universities. A second team from Ziegler’s class won honorable mention for a design that uses panoramic photography and digital imaging to detect debris on runways.

Meanwhile, one of two winning entries from Ziegler’s students in 2009 is now in the prototype phase. The idea, to use geothermal energy to radiate heat under an airport apron (where boarding, refueling and de-icing take place), will be developed and tested on a section of asphalt at the Greater Binghamton Airport. The test project is being funded by a $374,000 grant from the FAA to the Southern Tier Economic Partnership; the prototype is being built by local engineering firm McFarland-Johnson Inc.

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 computer science students out of their comfort zone, Ziegler notes. “But they’re really brilliant students who have also been taught to tackle new things.”