Volpe's Annual Innovation Challenge Now Underway
Volpe's second annual Innovation Challenge—an internal staff competition for funding to develop novel solutions to significant transportation issues—kicked off in late August. Staff interested in participating in the Challenge have been invited to networking events and teambuilding activities to help fuel idea development and collaboration. The participating teams recently submitted their ideas for review.
Up to eight teams will be selected to move forward to the next phase of the competition, and will have the opportunity to more fully develop their ideas into project proposals that can be "pitched" to existing or prospective sponsors. In December, following a final judging panel that will feature senior leaders from across DOT, one team will be awarded funding to develop a proof-of-concept.
Building on lessons learned from Volpe's successful 2012 Innovation Challenge, managers and staff who are organizing this year's Challenge provided more time for teams to develop ideas, created a collaborative workspace for the teams to outline and share their ideas, and organized an extra networking event to facilitate sharing among the teams.
Innovation Challenge planning team co-lead Alex Epstein said, "The 2012 Innovation Challenge was a great success. We intend to build on that momentum and make this year's competition even better by adding some new ideas into the planning process."
Last year's winning team is completing final user testing of a software tool to support transportation safety hazard analysis, called SafetyHAT. The tool will facilitate a system-focused hazard identification method to help analyze safety hazards associated with electronic control systems. The multidisciplinary development team comprises a system safety hazard analysis expert, an aviation safety engineer, an operations research analyst, and a software and electrical engineer.
Another Innovation Challenge team from last year, although not selected as the winner, was nonetheless successful in pitching its idea to a sponsor, and has secured funding to proceed with its concept as a new project: improving transportation safety by reducing stress and fatigue.
A third team proposed to examine the safety and fuel economy benefits of aerodynamic side guards for large trucks and buses. While the team did not "win" the Innovation Challenge; the lead engineer continued to explore the implementation of side guards and personally invested time in partnering with transportation stakeholders to pilot this promising technology.
In addition to engaging Volpe staff and building energy in Volpe's workforce, the Innovation Challenge stimulates creative thought that have application to multiple modes of transportation. The Innovation Challenge, which received high marks from staff in a recent internal survey, is in the spirit of Volpe's purpose: advancing transportation innovation for the public good.