Inventing for the future: Airbus Innovation week


UNESCO’s partnership with Airbus Fly Your Ideas competition mobilises a network of students and engineers around the world - uniting education and real life experience. This year marks the first ever Airbus Innovation Week, which took place March 10-14, 2014 at the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. This event was part of the prize awarded to the winning team of Airbus Fly Your Ideas 2013 biennial competition; it entailed an array of unique innovations used to build aircraft today and insights from Airbus innovations on creating sustainable aviation of for the future.

Fly Your Ideas is a team-based competition that challenges students worldwide to develop ideas for a more sustainable aviation industry and to contribute to innovation of technological relevance.  It facilitates international connections, helps students build communication skills, and improves student understanding of business and social constraints when developing technology. 

The first Airbus Innovation Week of inspiring workshops and seminars was organised by Airbus, the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer, with support from the UNESCO Engineering Initiative. The week brought together students from various backgrounds, not only engineering, but architecture and design, to tackle the same problems.  The Polytechnic School and Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, at the USP, hosted the event because its Team Levar won the competition in June 2013.  Their winning proposal entailed a luggage loading and unloading system for airplane cargo compartments; inspired by air hockey tables, the idea was to reduce the workload of airport baggage handlers with an air cushion solution.

Students, faculty and researchers at USP had a chance to explore tools and techniques that bring innovative ideas to life within global industry, from the experts themselves. On March 11, Airbus hosted a live global webinar on the range of innovations used to build aircraft today. Professional Airbus innovators, Gregor Dirks and Gary Wicks, illustrated the challenges of creating sustainable aviation for the future and shared their own insights on the cutting edge technologies that are influencing aviation today.  They highlighted the crucial role engineering plays in solving problems facing the world today and the challenge of forecasting technological trends to solve the problems of the future. 

The event provided a unique opportunity for students to develop their skills with the guidance of the two Airbus Innovators and the UNESCO Engineering Initiative leader, Rovani Sigamoney, who challenged participants to apply their ideas to real industry situations.  These included workshops to develop creative solutions to aviation problems such passenger comfort and facilities for those with difficulties flying (i.e. babies and tall/large people).  One group’s idea was an app that allowed passengers, who don’t speak the language of the flight, to communicate to airline attendants or play virtual games with the person next to them. 

The event included a presentation of the UNESCO Engineering Initiative and a UNESCO workshop on innovation for sustainability.  The workshop, led by Rovani Sigamoney, entailed a United Nations problem on sustainable development.  Participates were delegated a country and asked to design a house within monetary and country specific constraints; they were then asked to build a sanitation system for the surrounding municipality and pitch their ideas to the ‘acting’ UN Secretary General. 

The Airbus Innovation Week gave students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and inspire their future careers.  Benefits of science and technology need to be shared worldwide– UNESCO aims to broaden international participation in engineering and encourage women to pursue engineering careers through the Fly Your Ideas partnership with Airbus.  This partnership unites UNESCO with the private sector through common goals and provides access to real applications of science to students.