OHIO Team Participates in Statewide FlyOhio Vertiport Challenge
An interdisciplinary team of four undergraduates recently participated in the FlyOhio Vertiport Innovation Challenge in collaboration with industry, government, education and community partners from October 1-8, 2021.
The team consisted of Blake Dowalter, a civil engineering student; Lauren Parrell, student in health services administration; Neil Bateman, aeronautical flight student; and Michael Variny, mechanical engineering student. This interdisciplinary team has been handpicked by faculty collaborators from the College of Health Sciences and Professions and Russ College of Engineering and Technology due to the academic perspective and excellence of each student.
“In the professional world, people have to work across multiple disciplines to solve problems and create solutions, so opportunities like this for students to gain this kind of experience are important and valuable to everyone involved.” said Cory Cronin, Ph.D., associate professor at the College of Health Sciences and Professions.
The student group was led by a faculty advisory team including Jay Wilhelm, Ph.D., in Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Sam Khoury, Ph.D., in Civil Engineering, Paul Benedict as Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, and Cronin at the College of Health Sciences and Professions. The team was coached by Kamal Khouri, vice president and general manager of the automotive division of GlobalFoundries. Scott Miller, Associate Dean for Industry Partnerships at Russ College, coordinated the student team, faculty advisory team, and coach.
FlyOhio Vertiport Challenge
FlyOhio, a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation, seeks to rapidly advance the widespread use of vertical take-off and landing vehicles in Ohio airspace. FlyOhio and the Cincinnati Innovation District have collaborated to support Ohio’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) ecosystem by engaging university and college students across the state in a weeklong challenge, the FlyOhio Vertiport Challenge. , focused on accelerating Ohio’s AAM system.
AAM aims to transform transportation alternatives to include advancements in personal air vehicle development, air traffic management and infrastructure. As part of the Vertiport Challenge, student teams from the State of Ohio had to develop a business plan for a fair network of safe vertiports in their area. Vertiports are small airports for advanced aerial vehicles, including unmanned drones or manned airplanes.
The challenge is closely tied to NASA’s National Advanced Air Mobility Campaign, which divides the implementation of vertiports into three phases over the next 30 years. The teams were asked to design their business plan using one of three phases with a focus on one of the two main use cases for this technology: freight transportation and medical transportation. The OHIO team, which represents the Southeastern Ohio region, chose to address the medical transport use case implemented in the first phase.
âWe had a unique opportunity compared to the other teams. Athens County and Southeast Ohio in general are very rural. In our presentation, we investigated how vertiports could be best applied in rural areas rather than cities, âsaid Dowalter, the major in civil engineering.
The team chose to focus on the first phase of implementing a network of vertiports to meet the immediate need for expanded healthcare transportation services for prescription delivery in rural Ohio. . They explained that Athens County roads often require maintenance but lack the budget to support the required works. This explanation led them to develop their plan for issuing routine and emergency medical prescriptions by drones.
Their vision suggested that vertiports could be built on top of an aviation infrastructure already in place statewide but no longer in use. By creating a viable business plan, the OHIO team demonstrated that their plan can be implemented immediately, saving time, resources and lives.
The intersection of healthcare and technology
The team included students from the College of Health Sciences and Professions and the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, which allowed the team to focus on the technology implementation as well as the implications of the proposal for accessibility to health care.
âThe field of health care presents a wide range of issues and challenges that would benefit from interdisciplinary attention. Technological advancements in other areas can potentially help solve some of these health issues, and these opportunities are worth paying attention to, âCronin said.
The group opened their presentation with a hypothetical scenario of a child with an allergic reaction without an EpiPen at hand. They used this scenario to explain that convenient access to healthcare is lacking in the Southeastern Ohio region due to its rurality, which can sometimes have life-changing consequences. The team took care to ensure that their approach improves equitable access to health care, an issue that currently affects residents of this region.
âWe focused on how we can improve the health of the region and save lives. Our idea was for drones to receive a signal from a 911 operator, then go to the scene with an emergency item, like an EpiPen or a defibrillator, faster than an EMT. We have found that in rural areas it takes an average of 14 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, and that is a very long time, âsaid Parrell, head of health services administration.
Parrell’s experience as a student at the College of Health Sciences and Professions provided valuable insight into the competition, which was counterbalanced by the students’ knowledge of the technological implementation of the project at Russ College.
“The breadth of knowledge [the] Ohio University [team] assembled was awesome. Time and time again questions about practicality, cost, and design came up that I just didn’t know where to find. Our team could dig up anything – and we did, âsaid Bateman, the Aviation Flight Major.
Flight plans for the future
Although the OHIO team did not progress in the competition, the viability of their concept sparked ideas for further research. In addition, the students were able to compete as an interdisciplinary team of four students, who had never met before the week-long competition.
âPersonally, I have big dreams and this project is about realistically dreaming big. Our end product allowed me to build confidence that I can work well in a group of people I’ve never met and in an area that I don’t have a lot of background knowledge about. It also reassures me that seemingly unrealistic things can happen, âsaid Mechanical Engineering Major Variny.
The faculty advisory team, including Khoury and Wilhelm, also saw potential in the business plan.
âI really appreciated the enthusiasm and innovation that the students brought to this challenge. They were able, in a very short time, to bring together various thoughts and ideas and articulate them in a very meaningful and well-reasoned presentation, âsaid Khoury.
The conclusion of this competition underlines the current need for advanced air mobility and the feasibility of its implementation. As OHIO students continue to research use cases for this technology, the future of advanced air mobility will continue to expand.
According to Miller, the advanced air mobility industry “must engage students in jobs that do not currently exist” to meet the employment needs caused by the rapid growth of this new branch of the aviation industry. Students who invest their time will experience this cutting-edge, innovative and constantly growing industry.
As Dowalter, Parrell, Bateman and Variny continue their education at Ohio University, they will continue to reflect on the impact of this experience in the hopes that one day their idea will take off.
âAlthough we didn’t get the result we wanted, it was an amazing experience. I highly recommend that students take on this challenge next year, âParrell said. âI was able to use critical thinking skills and apply the knowledge I learned. Our idea had an impact and we worked a lot on it. Even though it was a lot of work, this project was a great experience.