By Frances Womble
One would think that art and design, computer science and psychology students might not share academic interests. However, seven undergraduate and graduate students from those different fields teamed up with Robert Youmans, assistant professor of psychology, and entered the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Annual Design Competition for universities. The competition asks students to address issues facing airports through six technical categories.
The George Mason team walked away with first place in the category of Innovation Application of FAA Data for their mobile application, Fleet. The category required that students design and develop a mobile application to help with airport-related issues, including travel time, delays, security and flight schedules.
“Fleet is an application for smartphones that combines FAA data about air travel with crowd-sourced data from travelers to provide up-to-the-minute information to users of the app,” says Youmans, who served as faculty advisor and senior project manager. “The goal is to greatly reduce the level of anxiety that people currently experience while traveling via commercial air travel. Basically, we were just trying to make flying fun again.”
Fleet builds a connective network of knowledge and information by aggregating data from passengers, government data, airlines, airports and airport businesses. The application provides the FAA with improved information about congestion at the airport from real users in real time, opportunities for airlines to improve customer loyalty and opportunities for airport businesses to increase sales through targeted offers to passengers. Fleet also provides users with deals and coupons, relaxation techniques, games, weather information, alerts about delays, information on luggage, suggestions on sleep times to reduce jet lag, and a directory of airport businesses.
The project began months ago when Youmans was approached about assembling a team for the competition.
“Human factors and applied cognition is a field where engineering, design and psychology meet,” he says. “We design things that take into account the user experience to make tasks more efficient and more fun. This competition was perfect for us.”
Youmans invited students from the Department of Psychology, Bachelor of Individualized Study Program, School of Art and Department of Computer Science to join him on the team. The final interdisciplinary team was:
- Daniel Gartenberg, a psychology doctoral student concentrating in human factors and applied cognition
- Jordan Higgins, a 2013 graduate with a Bachelor of Individualized Study degree with an emphasis on interactive design
- Peter Lee, a 2013 graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree concentrating in new media art
- Songrun Liu, a computer science doctoral student
- Nick Penaranda, a psychology doctoral student concentrating in human factors and applied cognition
- Brittany Sarbone, a 2013 graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Psychology with a concentration in human factors and applied cognition
- Melissa Smith, a psychology doctoral student concentrating in human factors and applied cognition
“One of the main reasons our team was successful was because we are interdisciplinary, and each of us can contribute something different that other students may lack knowledge in,” says Sarbone.
“Computer scientists and psychologists don’t always think we have a lot in common with each other, but we do,” says Youmans. “This project screamed interdisciplinary.”
“My interests center around user experience design,” says Sarbone. “For this project, I needed to think about the user being an airport traveler and what this person would need/want during their trip. As a group, we decided to address traveler anxiety, so I was forced to think what different approaches we could use to minimize anxiety. My background in psychology allowed me to get in the head of the user and understand how our target user would use the app, and what their expectations would be.”
On Wednesday, July 17, the team will receive their award at a ceremony at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The following day, team members will present their design at the Airport Consultants Council Transportation Security Administration Summer Series Workshop in Arlington. Both events will provide the team with valuable opportunities to meet and network with potential investors who might ultimately determine the future of Fleet.
“The project is now entering a phase where some financial backing and industry expertise would really be welcome, so these events will be both fun and important,” says Gartenberg. “My biggest anxiety is that if we don’t get the funding, the idea won’t go much further because it needs support in order to make it into a reality.”
“I really believe in the potential of Fleet, and hope we are able to attract some additional support,” says Youmans. “It’s been an incredible learning opportunity for these young entrepreneurs. They’re really excited, and I want it to keep going.”
For more information on Fleet, read the full submission.