UPDATE: The eMEALS team is officially in the semi-finals for the Fly Your Ideas video competition. Help them win by going to https://www.airbus-fyi.com/medias/best-videosand voting for Video # 2. (04/30/15)
NOTE (May 1, 2015): After beating out hundreds of teams in this semester-long "Fly Your Ideas" competition, the Aerospace Systems Design Lab "eMEALS" team is now running a close second in the semi-final round for the video competition. You can make a difference. From now until May 17, the team needs online voters to put their project over the top. You can help by visiting the Air Bus Fly Your Ideas video site and voting for Video #2. The story below will tell you more about the project itself.
They are familiar nuisances to anyone who has ever traveled on a commercial airline: the intrusive tray table and its noisy cousin, the food cart.
A team of graduate students from AE's Aerospace Systems Design Lab is devising an alternative meal delivery system that could sideline those space-hoggng scourges forever: a user-controlled food requisition system that automatically delivers your meal whenever you choose to order it.
"The idea is, you don't have to eat just because they tell you it's time to eat, and you don't have get trapped in your seat when they are delivering everyone else's food," says AE grad student Mathilde Deveraux, a France native and frequent flier.
"The food is delivered to your seat from an overhead rail, not a person."
Deveraux and her four ASDL colleagues put together their proposal, "eMeals Enhanced Meal Experience with Airborne Light Systems" for Airbus's 2015 Fly Your Ideas competition.
Their pitch made it through the first round of the competition, where almost 400 teams were sent away. Now, they must compete with 100 other teams to make it to the final round, in May, where just five teams will present their ideas to Airbus officials.
The winners will take home a $30,000 prize -- and bragging rights.
"It would be nice to have Airbus know who I am," said Deveraux, who graduates in May. "I would like them to know what I can do."
From now until the end of March, the ASDL team will be working with an Airbus engineer, Colin Hodges, and their ASDL mentor, Dr. Dimitri Mavris, to finesse the details of their concept. Located in Toulouse, Hodges consults with them almost daily via email, and weekly via Skype.
Their plan starts with a touch-screen, where passengers can order food and drinks as they choose. It then employs an overhead rail that runs between the two rows of overhead bins and conveys meals and beverages to each row. Beverages can be stored in large containers and served on tap in the galleys, thus reducing waste by replacing bottles and cans.
In addition to clearing the aisles of those bulky (and heavy!) carts, the system frees up space that can be used in the galleys or for more leg room. The team estimates that removing trolleys could save as much as $7.5 billion in annual fuel costs.
And the flight attendants? Will they still be needed?
"You will always need flight attendants. This will give them more time to spend with passengers," said Christopher Frank, a doctoral student on the team.
"Passengers want to have humans there. They just don't need them to serve food."
Frank and Deveraux said there's no way to size up their competition in this match-up, because Airbus allows each team to choose a theme and a project that are totally unique.
"If there are 100 teams out there now, there are 99 teams for us to beat," said Deveraux. "We're just working as hard as we can to deliver a good presentation."
This schematic gives an overall view of the concept. The final implementation of the eMeals concept will be done by Airbus, if it is chosen in the final round.