Rolls-Royce: Building the “perfect flight”

Tapping on the limitless potential of data, engineering and aviation giant Rolls-Royce launched the inaugural Data Innovation Challenge Asia, in search of data-enabled solutions to solve problems in the aviation field.

We’ve all been there – stuck at the airport for hours due to a flight delay or cancellation, brought about by bad weather or a technical engine fault.

But engineering and aviation giant Rolls-Royce, which strives to be more sustainable in both profits and carbon emissions, hopes to harness the power of data to solve some of the aviation industry’s biggest challenges.

Thus, the inaugural Rolls-Royce Data Innovation Challenge Asia was launched late last year, in a bid to find solutions to reduce operational inefficiencies for airlines and improve the flying experience for passengers.

The inaugural Rolls-Royce Data Innovation Challenge Asia was launched in late 2018 to encourage data-driven innovation in the aviation field.

In November, the company called for teams – data enthusiasts and individuals with a keen eye for artificial intelligence alike – to design the “perfect flight”, one which leverages data for better decision-making in the instances of flight scheduling, flight planning, and maintenance scheduling.

Over 200 applications were received, of which only eight were shortlisted, and presented with datasets curated by Rolls-Royce.

They would be given the opportunity to work with mentors from R2 Data Labs, Rolls-Royce’s data innovation division, to come up with solutions that would later be pitched to a panel of senior aviation industry experts.

It’s an attractive proposition, with an attractive prize to boot. On March 1, Singapore data analytics startup SEER Analytics was declared the winning team. They had pitched a machine-learning application programming interface (API) that would help to make the airline industry more efficient.

They took home a US$10,000 (S$13,600) cash prize from Rolls-Royce, and a grant of S$50,000 from Startup SG, an initiative of Enterprise Singapore, which is working with the aviation company to develop talents in the field of data exploitation.

As part of a wider push by Enterprise Singapore, the Rolls-Royce Data Innovation Challenge aims to provide a platform for promising local and foreign startups to showcase new technologies and business ideas for the regional aviation industry.

Eight teams, one perfect flight
So how does one go about building the “perfect flight”? How does one define the “perfect flight”?

Besides SEER Analytics, among Rolls-Royce’s eight shortlisted teams was Coffeeshop Teens, a group of data scientists from Singapore with master’s degrees in statistics, computing and aerospace experience. They clinched second place in the challenge and walked away with US$2,000 (S$2,715) in cash.

India’s ZestIoT was also awarded runner-up alongside Coffeeshop Teens. By using Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, the startup aimed to integrate passenger, baggage, aircraft, ground and airport operations, in a bid to enhance airport delivery without a change in inventory.

The challenge also saw the participation of Bangalore-headquartered big data and analytics company Navigem, which planned to use its specialisation in data-driven decision support solutions to tackle the issue of flight scheduling.

The only team from Hong Kong, dubbed OCTAD, had members experienced in multi-disciplinary design and optimization of aircraft and transportation.

Eight shortlisted teams get one-on-one consultations with mentors from R² Data Labs, Rolls-Royce’s data innovation division.

Both Singapore-based Drootoo and Innovative Binaries hope to improve Rolls-Royce’s engineering maintenance quality. To assist aircraft operations, the former planned to provide a unified cloud platform and enabling cloud computing, and the latter an AI platform.

Lastly, India-based ENGRAV examined the key areas of the company’s day-to-day and long-term technical, flying and operational needs.

A better aviation industry for the future
Rolls-Royce is confident that data-driven innovation is the key to helping them better monitor and understand their own products.

“Understanding engine behaviours and component health whilst the engines are travelling through extreme environments is critical,” said Mr Adrian Man, Head of Ecosystems and Partnerships at Rolls-Royce, adding that engine reliability is fundamental to the business.

Besides flight safety, other key areas include tackling issues surrounding predictive maintenance, fuel efficiency, engine and airline availability.

There is especially great potential for disruption within Asia, as a result of strong collaborative efforts between startups, large corporates and government agencies such as Enterprise Singapore. And Rolls-Royce is already looking forward to the improvements that the aviation industry will see in the years to come.

“With Rolls-Royce’s other business units and opportunities planned for our 2019 roadmap, especially as our ecosystem efforts begin to scale across the region, we are bullish that Enterprise Singapore would continue to be a key partner and catalyst for our innovation across the region,” said Mr Man.