Fly Your Ideas student challenge highlights the importance of innovation

Planes powered by body heat, luggage floating on a bed of air and even aircraft running on cow power (methane gas) - these are just some of the revolutionary ideas, developed by students from universities across the world, that could one day feature on the aircraft of the future. These disruptive aviation concepts have been created for Fly Your Ideas, a global competition run by Airbus under the patronage of UNESCO. Fly Your Ideas challenges students worldwide to develop innovative ideas for a more sustainable aviation industry for the future.

Five finalist teams have been selected by Airbus from a global pool of creative, engineering and design talent - this year’s challenge inspired over 6,000 students from 82 countries to register with 618 teams submitting a proposal. The winners will be announced at an exclusive ceremony at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris on 14 June 2013.

Each team will now travel to Airbus headquarters in Toulouse to compete for the €30,000 prize and present their future-gazing ideas to a panel of judges. The shortlisted concepts are:

Luggage floating on air – submitted by Team Levar from Brazil
Using the principles of air hockey, the cargo hold is retro-fitted with super-light sliding sections to enable workers to quickly, easily and safely load and unload luggage. Passengers could get their bags 30% faster and can start their holidays sooner.

Planes powered by cow power – submitted by Team CLiMA from Australia
A sustainable fuel solution puts liquefied methane to use in specially-created supercooled pods that sit next to the engines. The solution could reduce CO2 emissions by a remarkable 97%.

Shape shifting materials that help reduce noise – submitted by Team AVAS from India
A simple engine modification made from special shape-shifting materials can change airflow through the engine and reduce noise pollution.

Battery-powered hybrid engines – submitted by Team Flybrid from Italy
Specially-shaped rechargeable batteries drop into the cargo hold, helping to power efficient hybrid engines – only the required number of batteries are loaded dependent on mileage, optimizing the plane’s weight. In a short-haul flight, this solution could save up to 60% of fuel, which reduces up to 40% of CO2 emissions.

Human body heat powering cabins – submitted by Team Embarker from Malaysia
Even a resting human body can be efficient – heat energy from specially-embedded heat-sensitive material in cabin seats captures energy from passengers. This energy could be used for onboard electronics, reducing the energy requirements for the flight.

Though the idea that cows could provide the fuel to fly you from London to New York – or that noise reduction could be achieved through shape-shifting engines – may seem far-fetched, the existence of these concepts could be not too far away at all.

If we can’t find ways to inspire a generation of engineers with varied skills, this is going to be a principle obstacle for growth in our slowly recovering global economy” said Lidia Brito, Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building at UNESCO. “A recent UNESCO Engineering Report shows a marked shortage of engineers in many countries. Although the general number of engineering students is increasing worldwide, the proportion who enroll in engineering, as compared to other disciplines, is concernedly dropping. We need hands-on challenges like Fly Your Ideas to motivate young innovators about the potential of engineering in helping to find practical solutions to issues the world may face in the near future.

Such innovation may be under threat from a skills gap that could be hitting the economy hard.  It will see high tech companies face a shortfall of 40 million of the skilled workers needed by 2020 and beyond, with aerospace likely to suffer, along with motor and the medical equipment sectors(1).

Charles Champion, Executive Vice President Engineering at Airbus and Fly Your Ideas Patron, says: “These future-focused and disruptive concepts prove that engineering isn’t just about technical skills – it’s about having an innovative mindset and a creative approach.  But for our industry to succeed in making aviation carbon neutral by 2020, we need a constant source of fresh and inventive ideas from the innovators of today and those of tomorrow.  Our future solutions are here right now – and through projects like ‘Fly Your Ideas’, we are helping them to become a reality for the future.”

Airbus Fly Your Ideas aims to highlight the growth opportunities available to young innovators, who could help change the world and work towards a more sustainable aviation industry, both now and in the future.

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Media contacts:

  • UNESCO: Agnès Bardon,
    Tel: +33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64
  • Airbus: Anne Galabert       
    +33 (0)5 67 19 04 48        

(1) Source: McKinsey Global Institute, Manufacturing the Future: the next era of global growth and innovation, November 2012