Crowdsourcing Within the Aerospace Industry

In the past, research and development within the aerospace industry has traditionally been confined to university laboratories, private sectors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, or to government-sponsored agencies such as NASA.

Fortunately, we now live in the information age, and the so-called “silo mentality” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Aerospace companies are now resorting to a specialized form of crowdsourcing––aptly referred to as “crowd-engineering”––to help generate innovative solutions to highly technical problems.

Crowd-engineering efforts in aerospace

NASA, plagued by development delays, actually became one of the earliest adopters of crowd-engineering. Operating since 2011, the NASA Tournament Labinvites the public to submit their ideas directly to the agency for a variety of applications. Many of their challenges have also been hosted on popular crowdsourcing platforms, offering participants rewards ranging from monetary prizes to lucrative government contracts.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA for short) has also experimented with crowd-engineering in recent years, seeking ideas from the public to design anything from UAVs to software for testing weapons.

Airbus, the largest aeronautics company in Europe, hosted a 2016 challenge to design a drone capable of safely delivering medical supplies. In July of that year, Alexey Medvedev was awarded the top prize of $117,500 for his design, The Zelator, which successfully delivered up to five kilograms of cargo in its trial run. Medvedev’s submission won over 424 others, and enabled Airbus to develop a working prototype in just three months, which will be utilized by medical facilities in the near future.

In similar fashion, industry titan Boeing has offered $2 million for the creation of a personal flying device that is “safe, useful, and thrilling.” Over 3,000 people have joined the challenge, with 744 submissions currently in development and a public ‘fly-off’ scheduled for October 2019 to determine the victor. It’s a win-win for the aerospace giant: not only has Boeing used this opportunity to promote their brand, but the acquisition of raw data will undoubtedly benefit future projects.

Key benefits of aerospace crowdsourcing

There are innumerable benefits to utilizing crowdsourcing in the aerospace industry. Pending the level of project complexity, challenges can be structured with specific parameters to ensure participants meet desired (or necessary) requirements, but in general, crowdsourcing can offer three primary advantages over traditional hiring methods:

  • Speed: By employing the combined brainpower of the public at large, complex ideas can be solved quickly and efficiently. The aerospace industry involves stratospheric levels of high-tech knowledge and research, by dividing and outsourcing manageable portions of this work, in-house teams can focus on specialized tasks without delaying development.

Historically speaking, NASA has experienced amazing results when tapping into the public to solve even the most bizarre conundrums––such as the Space Poop Challenge.

  • Ingenuity: Hiring a specialist can produce great results but sometimes a stagnant project benefits the most from a fresh pair of eyes. Every profession has its blind spots, and crowdsourcing opens the possibility for experts in different fields to contribute insight and ingenuity that can shake up traditional methods.

For example, Alexey Medvedev, the winner of the Airbus challenge we mentioned earlier, isn’t an aerospace student or professional––he’s actually an architect by trade!

  • Recruitment: Crowdsourcing can also serve as an effective tool to recruit high-performing individuals. As previous organizers have attested, sponsoring challenges creates opportunity for innovative thinkers to showcase their skills and knowledge firsthand. It’s common practice for sponsors to take note of highly motivated individuals for potential employment or even funding down the line.

With adequate sponsorship, aerospace crowdsourcing can become a powerful asset to any company, large or small. Even highly skilled professions like engineering no longer have to be bound to the traditional workplace model, as companies with more flexible organizational structures have been shown to fare better with fluctuating markets.

Tapping into the power of crowds is rapidly gaining traction in other industries as well, culminating in unique ventures such as collecting health data to benefit sufferers of autoimmune disease to purchasing nature reserves.

What do you think? Are there any additional benefits to crowdsourcing that we’ve missed? Have you personally participated in a crowdsourcing challenge and want to share your experience?

Let us know in the comments below!

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