A virtually connected team of Indian aerospace engineers — based in India, USA, UK and The Netherlands — have emerged champions in a global biennial innovation challenge organised by UNESCO and the passenger aircraft manufacturing company Airbus.
Interestingly, members of the team, which aptly calls itself MultiFun, met in person for the first time only for the final round of the event last week (May, 2015). Their winning entry for the ‘Fly Your Ideas (FYI)’ competition held in Hamburg, Germany was a “hybrid battery-piezoelectric composite structure for next generation aircraft”. Simply put, they designed aircraft wings dressed in a “composite skin that harvests energy from natural vibrations” or flex in the wings. MultiFun bagged €30,000 as prize money along with the coveted trophy.
“Piezoelectric fibres gather electrical charges from even the smallest movements during flight, storing the energy generated in battery panels integrated in the fuselage and using it to power auxiliary in-flight systems, such as lighting and entertainment systems. This reduces the energy footprint of aircraft during flight and could even replace the entire power source for ground operations,” the jury said calling MultiFun’s entry a ‘path breaking’ innovation.
The idea was sprouted in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. The chief mentor for the project was Dineshkumar Harursampath, lab head of the Nonlinear Multifunctional Composites — Analysis & Design Laboratory at IISc. Harusampath got this globally-placed team of IISc alumni and current IISc students together through video-conferencing and virtual platforms. Team leader, Sathiskumar A. Ponnusami, a doctoral student in TU Delft, and Dhamotharan Veerasamy, a doctoral student in City University London, are IISc Masters alumni. Shashank Agrawal and Ajith Moses are current doctoral students at NMCAD Lab. And the youngest, Mohit Gupta, a Masters student at Georgia Tech, Atlanta, was an intern at NMCAD Lab a year ago.
The Indian team’s entry was shortlisted in the top five from among 518 teams representing 104 countries. FYI is designed to identify and encourage the next generation of innovators and uncover futuristic and unconventional yet promising solutions for the evolution of flight.
Team leader Sathiskumar says the “long umbilical cords” of IISc inspired them to design and develop multifunctional materials for next generation aerospace applications. “The lab provides an environment conducive for out-of-the-box thinking and uninhibited multimedia communication without space-time limitations amongst team members,” he said in a release. “Only half the time was spent on technical issues. The rest was inspirational yet unplanned chatting leading to team bonding, true to the name MultiFun!”
The team was able to work 24 hours a day by interacting across physical boundaries from four different locations around the world and managed to present the most disruptive idea for the future of aviation at the competition. “… the winning idea is all about good vibrations,” the jury noted.
Indeed a brilliant example of virtual networking for science and innovation.