Student-led team wins FAA 2021 Challenge

Student-led team wins FAA 2021 Challenge

Rowan University alumnus Brandon Graham describes his team's cloud-based platform during the FAA's 2021 Challenge.

A team of Rowan University students has won the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2021 Challenge: Smart Airport Student Competition, following a virtual forum held June 22-23. 

The students proposed a cloud-based platform to help first responders arrive at airport emergencies faster, make better informed decisions and potentially save lives. 

Selected from a pool of 21 proposals, three finalist university teams presented smart technology design solutions to improve travelers’ transportation experiences from home, in the airport environment, and to their final destination. Rowan University’s entry, ARKE: The Situational Intelligence Platform for Rapid Emergency First Response, earned first place and a $25,000 cash prize.

Led by Brandon Graham (‘18, M’20), Rowan University’s team included eight students from the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering, the College of Science & Mathematics and the Rohrer College of Business. Mechanical engineering professors Dr. Hong Zhang and Dr. Ratneshwar Jha served as the team’s advisers. 

To develop its software, the team is working with Arke Aeronautics LLC, a public safety technology company founded by Rowan alumni, and Sage Technologies of Warminster, Pennsylvania. The students also worked with numerous companies during the course of their research, including Aerodefense, FlightAware, Sunhillo, Cellular Tracking Technologies, American Aerospace Technologies Incorporated, Thunderbolt ISR.

Competitors included finalist teams from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Hampton University, both preeminent aviation schools. 

The FAA partnered with the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) to manage the competition, intended to recognize undergraduate and graduate students who can demonstrate innovative thinking. 

The competition required finalist teams to submit a technical paper, digital poster, and present a final demonstration to judges during the virtual forum. The students’ efforts could help shape smart airport technology and foster innovation at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Tech Center, the nation’s premier air transportation system laboratory. 

Arke’s research found that every adult in the United States dials 911 once a year on average. Reducing the national emergency response time by one minute could save 10,000 lives each year in the United States alone. 

“First responders are real-life superheroes, but the tools they have to collect, consume and share information are broken. Arke is a public safety platform that puts responders on-scene digitally before they arrive,” said Graham, Arke’s co-founder and CEO. “With this grant, Arke will take the next step towards helping keep first responders safer—and improving public safety for all.”

Following Rowan’s presentation, judges thanked the team for its enthusiasm and commercialization efforts, calling an Arke demonstration video “phenomenal” and “exquisite.”  

The platform has already undergone beta testing at four sites, noted FAA Challenge Steering Committee Chairman Edward Marciano. 

“Time saves everything—lives, materials,” Marciano said. 

The Rowan team’s award will be used to further develop the software for commercial use at airports by Arke Aeronautics. The company has already received support from the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund, the University City Science Center of Philadelphia, as well as South Jersey angel investors, small businesses and Rowan alumni.   

In addition to Graham, the winning students include: Matthew Guardiani, Cole Kirstein, Brandon Carmosino, John Stranahan, Matt Schofield, Benny Liang and Steven Jiang.