Prepare for takeoff

Texas A&M team wins second round of Boeing-backed flight device competition

A team out of Texas A&M University is a finalist for Boeing's GoFly competition. Courtesy of GoFly

A team from Texas A&M University has advanced in a global Boeing-sponsored competition called GoFly. The competition asks teams to create a personal flying device aircraft that is smaller, lighter, and quieter than any currently existing model.

Texas A&M Harmony is one of the five teams named a winner in GoFly's Phase II competition, which has more than 3,500 innovators from 101 countries across the world. The teams are now preparing for the Final Fly-Off expected to take place in 2020, at which point innovators will put their aircrafts to the test, competing at a final event showcase and for the remaining $1.6 million in prizes.

Dr. Moble Benedict leads the team and is an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at TAMU and founder of the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with 15 years of experience in vertical take-off and landing aircraft concepts. Texas A&M Harmony is the only team from Texas currently in the competition.

"The first time I heard about the GoFly competition, I thought 'this is impossible I can't do it,'" says Moble Benedict, Harmony's team captain and an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at TAMU.

Benedict, who also founded the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with 15 years of experience in vertical take-off and landing aircraft concepts, proposed the competition to his students and his connections in the field to build his current team.

"The first few months we spent brainstorming different ideas," Benedict tells InnovationMap.

The team created a design called Aria, which was inspired by the word's musical roots.

"Being engineers, we were trying to stick with a theme," says Carl Runco, a PhD student at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab of TAMU. "We struck on 'Aria,' and thought 'that's it' because Aria is the solo of an opera and we're designing a single-person vehicle."

Aria is a high technology readiness level compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety, reliability, and flight experience, according to the GoFly website.

"The key outcome of this design is the rotor system we have designed," says Benedict. "We have come up with a very unique rotor system which is very quiet without compromising the efficiency. That's something very hard to do."

In addition to Benedict and Runco, the Harmony team has a total of 12 members — from PhDs to professors, including:

  • David Coleman, a PhD student conducting research at AVFL (Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory)
  • Hunter Denton, a Masters student in AVFL at TAMU
  • Dr. Eric Greenwood, who received a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and is a researcher at NASA Langley developing rotor noise modeling methods and experimental techniques
  • Atanu Halder, a PhD candidate in Aerospace Engineering at TAMU
  • Dr. Vikram Hrishikeshavan, an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Maryland with 14 years of experience in VTOL aircraft concepts
  • Dr. Vinod Lakshminarayan, a Research Scientist at Science and Technology Corporation, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Bochan Lee, a South Korean Navy UH-60 pilot and a current graduate researcher at AVFL
  • Farid Saemi, a PhD student at TAMU
  • Vishaal Subramanian, a Masters student at the Aerospace department of TAMU
  • Aswathi Sudhir, a PhD student in Materials and Structures from Aerospace department of TAMU.

Winning the competition would put the Texas university on the map for aerospace engineering.

"The recognition would be invaluable," says Saemi.

The GoFly competition is broken up into three phases that began in 2017 according to the website. The first phase focused on written reports detailing each team's design and plan. After advancing through that round, Harmony entered Phase II, which included a re-review of Phase I materials and a demonstration of the progress each team has made. The five winners of Phase II will compete in a fly-off in 2020.

Other teams based in the United States include Trek Aerospace FK2 Inc. and DragonAir Aviation. International teams include Silverwing Personal Flight, from the Netherlands, and Aeroxo LV, from Latvia and Russia.

"We're inspired and excited to see the strong progress that GoFly competitors have made on their bold, creative designs," says Greg Hyslop, Boeing's CTO, in the press release. "Their work confirms a principle that's at the core of both Boeing and GoFly: aerospace innovation changes the world."

While the team is focused on next year's fly-off competition, they see the potential for a company taking off.

"If we're successful enough and attract enough attention, there is definitely interest in turning the team into an official company," says Runco. "We want to be able to sell these things."

Texas A&M Harmony has 12 team members and is advancing to the final round of the competition. Courtesy of GoFly

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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