It’s no secret that Americans love competitions with judges. American Idol is in its 12th season, and there are television shows recognizing almost every talent you can think of—dancing, cooking, fashion design, and more. But what happens if your talent is transportation research?
Then we've got just the thing. DOT’s own Volpe Center just concluded its first-ever “Innovation Challenge,” a competition where teams present ideas that help solve major challenges in American transportation.
Judges from Volpe's Innovation Challenge included (from left to right) Jo Strang, FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety; Robert Johns, Volpe Center Director; Gregory Winfree, RITA Acting Administrator; Christopher Bonanti, NHTSA Associate Administrator for Rulemaking; and Tony Fazio, FAA Director of the Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention (not pictured her). Tony participated via video teleconference.
I’ve written about the Volpe Center before. Home to cutting-edge human factors simulator work, award-winning low-cost solutions to safety and security, and much more, the center is a fee-for-service transportation research facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is part of our Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).
Recognized internationally for its transportation research expertise, Volpe houses a diverse group of talented individuals, with experts in virtually every field, from economists and urban planners to mechanical engineers and computer scientists. The center is truly a multi-disciplinary organization, working to solve multimodal transportation problems.
The real value of this competition is that, in addition to engaging Volpe staff in professional development, the Innovation Challenge also yielded real, actionable ideas. The final seven teams were actually competing for funds to further develop their solutions for real-world application.
I'm a big believer that to make our transportation system safer, cleaner, and more efficient, we need to be creative and continually innovate. With all the talent at work in the Volpe Center, I can’t think of any part of DOT better equipped to tackle the complex multimodal and multi-disciplinary issues facing transportation through a competitive Innovation Challenge.
What makes this Volpe Innovation Challenge even more exciting is the participation and support of leaders from across DOT. The judges for this event were all top leaders in four different modes of DOT, including: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and RITA. I’m always pleased to see the DOT modes coming together and collaborating to improve transportation.
The seven ideas presented by the teams on Monday would improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists; improve crash data capture and analysis; better leverage big data; reduce stress and fatigue for operators; and make our airports safer and more efficient. The winning entry proposed a way to improve safety management systems and risk analysis.
All of these are important goals. And although there can only be one winner, I congratulate all Volpe staff who participated in this initiative. After all, when Americans come together to solve transportation challenges, we all win.