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Airball Wins

Founder’s Innovation Prize

By Randy Dufault

July 27, 2016 - Ihab Awad has a vision of what a safer GA future looks like.

“Many years ago cars came without seat belts, and nobody gave that a second thought,” Awad, of San Jose, California, said as he presented his Founder’s Innovation Prize concept to the judges Tuesday night at Theater in the Woods. “I would like a world where the proper accurate measurement and intuitive visualization of air data in the cockpit is as taken for granted as we take seat belts today.”

 Awad’s concept “Airball” surfaced as the winner of a $25,000 grand prize, presented by Airbus, after the five contest finalists pitched their ideas about how to reduce loss of control induced (LOCI) accidents in the experimental amateur-built aircraft community and in the broader GA world.

Airball synthesizes air data from a number of sensors and graphically presents it so that a pilot can quickly understand the current flight state of the airplane. A blue ball on the display grows, shrinks, and moves around the display as airspeed, angle of attack, and yaw change. Keeping the ball the right size, and in the right place, ensures that the airplane is well outside any regime that may result in a LOCI accident.

The finalists, whose proposals were selected from a group of 140 submitted over the past year, were given 10 minutes to present the concept to the judging panel. The panel, consisting of Chief Judge and EAA Safety Committee Chairman Charlie Precourt, Dick VanGrunsven, designer of the Van’s RV series of aircraft kits; aviation speaker and author Rod Machado, Dave Morss, one of the country’s pre-eminent civilian test pilots and air racers; and Michael Goulian, national aerobatic champion and Red Bull Air Race competitor, then had a three-minute period to ask clarifying questions.

At the completion of the presentations the judges departed the stage to select the final winners. Upon returning Precourt announced their decision.

Fifth place went to Chris Moody of Lusby, Maryland, with his idea “Virtual Reality In-Aircraft Platform.”

Fourth went to Henry Burrow, from Clover, South Carolina, for his concept idea “Digital Copilot.”

Third place included a $5,000 cash prize and was awarded to Andrew Skow from Tehachapi, California, for his idea “Energy State Awareness Display.” 

Second place’s $10,000 cash prize went to Grant Sprunger from Boulder, Colorado, for his project “Precise Pilot.”

Styled after the XPRIZE that launched development of the commercial space travel industry, EAA’s Safety Committee created the prize to stimulate development of ideas and innovations that will, at least initially, seek to reduce the current rate of LOCI accidents within the experimental amateur-built aircraft fleet.

“We are serious about this,” Sean Elliot, EAA vice president of advocacy and safety said. “This has become the top issue that we need to deal with in the general aviation community.”

2016’s prize is the first of what will be an annual contest.

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