Four students hold a trophy from the federal aviation association

University of Michigan students wins competition to improve infrastructure within the Federal Aviation Administration

Students from multiple disciplines at U-M came together to create an interface that will change air traffic control management for decades to come.

Sinan, Tyler and Kate holding trophy
Tyler, Sinan and Kate

University of Michigan (U-M) student team wins first place in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) competition designed to improve flow management data and service infrastructure. This came with a monetary prize of 25 thousand dollars.

The student team consisted of U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering student Sinan Abdulhak, STAMPS student Kate Shen, School of Information student Tyler Carvette, and their team advisor Michigan Engineering assistant professor Max Z. Li. They worked together for a total of seven months to design an interface that would influence the management of air traffic control for decades to come.

“Leading a team at the intersection of analytics, process improvement, and human-centered design reinforced my belief in multidisciplinary collaboration to create change,” said Abdulhak. “Together, we transformed whiteboard sketches into an award-winning interface for the FAA’s mission-critical FMDS that will influence how traffic managers work for decades.”

Video demonstration of the U-M student-created interface

The team conducted user interviews and tests with former FAA Traffic Managers and NASA Human Factors Engineers to refine their interface. During the competition, the judges appreciated the product’s streamlined workflow for end users through its three core functionalities. The first of which is evaluating, which gives users tools to explore weather, rocket launches, and other constraints to aircraft. The second is modeling, where Traffic Managers build an Airspace Flow Program as a solution to the identified constraint and understand their proposal’s impact with Data Cards. And lastly, monitoring where Traffic Managers monitor the impact of their solution through customizable visualizations. Overall the judges felt that the team kept user needs at the center of every design decision, leading them to win the competition.

Kate presenting graphs on a screen

“It was a privilege to advise Sinan, Kate, and Tyler,” said Li. “I learned alongside the team, whether it was listening to them about their latest user interviews with former air traffic controllers, or teaching them air traffic management (ATM) basics. Their final product, endearingly named aMaize, was extraordinary in all dimensions, reflecting the amount of work the students put into user research, interviews, and learning ATM. Most importantly, the team felt that the product was truly theirs, centering each of their inputs and perspectives.”