New technology provides clear landing for ASU Polytechnic students

August 18, 2015

Editor's note: As ASU gears up for the start of classes this week, our reporters are spotlighting scenes around its campuses. To read more, click here.

ASU’s Polytechnic campus is known for its cutting-edge technology. On Tuesday workers were installing a piece of machinery that’s so advanced even the feds in Washington aren’t ready for it. installation of simulation station Brian Donnelly of Advanced Technologies Operational Management Systems puts the final touches on the installation of a new simulation station at ASU's Polytechnic campus on Aug. 18. Download Full Image

It’s an air-traffic-control simulation station that could update a system that hasn’t changed since Jimmy Carter occupied the White House. And if everything works, it will make travel much safer and ease the stress of air-traffic controllers.

“It’s so cutting-edge that it’s bleeding edge,” said Mary Niemczyk, chair of ASU’s Aviation Programs at the Polytechnic campus. “And we’re the only university that has it.”

Brian Donnelly of Advanced Technologies Operational Management Systems (ATOMS), based in Mays Landing, New Jersey, was overseeing the final installation of the eight stations on Tuesday. They will include NextGen software, an air-traffic-control system that aims to revolutionize the industry.

Donnelly said once students complete the Air Traffic Management undergraduate degree program at Poly, they’ll be well prepared to enter a specialized field in aviation.

“This software has been aligned to meet the needs of what ASU wants and what the Federal Aviation Administration requires,” Donnelly said. “Once they complete this program, this will allow a student to be ready for the FAA.”

Donnelly added that industry technology has not been changed since the 1970s and many air-traffic controllers still work with pen and paper, specifically using a Flight Progress Strip as a quick way to annotate an “operation.” The limitations with these strips, he said, are that controllers often have to keep their heads down and focus on checking off information rather than visually scanning the airfield for potential hazards.

“I’ve seen so many close calls in my career all because the controller’s head was down during an operation, checking off the information on the strip,” said Donnelly, a former FAA controller.

Ironically, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is the only major airport in the country that doesn’t use the strips, which are costly. On the average, more than 4,000 strips are consumed daily at major airports, at a cost of approximately $150,000 a year per airport, Donnelly said.

“If the FAA upgraded their systems, it would pay for itself in just a few years in strip costs alone,” Donnelly said. “But there are too many layers with the FAA to get it done and too many companies who want a piece of the pie. All we want to do is make it better for flight controllers.”

Donnelly declined to share the cost of the new simulators.

According to Steven Daniel-Hamberg, a student worker who graduated with ASU’s Air Traffic Management Program last December, flight controllers have it pretty good. The median salary for an air-traffic controller is approximately $113,500 a year with mandatory retirement at 56 and an excellent pension package and upgraded Social Security supplements. However, competition for jobs is fierce. Daniel-Hamberg said last year approximately 28,000 people applied for 1,200 open jobs. He is one of the 28,000 hopefuls awaiting word from the FAA.

“I want someplace busy like Chicago or Atlanta,” he said. “I enjoy a good challenge and want to be busy.”

While Donnelly expects the FAA will continue to drag its feet for a few more years, ASU has decided to move forward. It is currently the only university that will train students on these simulators, which will commence in spring 2016 after instructors become familiar with the software and its capabilities.

The program should help ASU’s future air-traffic controllers be ready for a competitive field – whether they’re using NextGen or strips of paper.

Reporter , ASU News


New ASU school to take more holistic look at innovation

August 18, 2015

Innovation is a complicated business.

Especially when the innovation moves faster than our society can adapt to or manage it — whether it’s new technology, energy resources or health solutions. New faculty of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society Dave Guston (center), the founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, with the school's new faculty (from left): Ashok Kumar, Jennifer Richter, Michael Bennett, Emma Frow, Diana Bowman and Andrew Maynard. <br><br> The new school brings together faculty with transdisciplinary backgrounds in social sciences, law and policy, renewable energy, marine conservation and more, with the goal of exploring new, creative approaches to innovation challenges. Download Full Image

A new school at Arizona State University will take a transdisciplinary, more encompassing view of innovation in order to better predict those outcomes. In the words of Dave Guston, founding director of the new School for the Future of Innovation in Society, “We are planning now for the kinds of futures that we will want to inhabit.”

“The idea of the school is to take our understanding of innovation — which includes not just technical elements but social elements — and have those technical and social things fit together,” Guston said.

The school has its roots in ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, which aims to enhance the contribution of science and technology to the pursuit of justice, freedom and quality of life. The new school takes what the consortium does as a research center and transforms that into a larger operation with degree programs, Guston said.

Its faculty reflect the transdisciplinary approach, with backgrounds in social sciences, law and policy, renewable energy, marine conservation and more.

“The challenge is we’ve built a society that’s dependent on innovation … but we’re innovating faster than we know how to manage that innovation,” said professor Andrew Maynard, an expert in risk innovation and one of the school’s new faculty. “We need new ways of making sure that innovation is helping people and not going to harm them.”

People tend to think of risk just in terms of whether the technology works, he said. But how people think about an innovation is just as important to its success.

Maynard was drawn from the University of Michigan to the new ASU school because it brings together such a wide range of interests and ways of thinking. People get stuck in ruts of deep expertise, he said, but the goal is to get the physicist talking with the psychologist, the engineer with the artist, the legal expert with the scientist.

“The hope is that brand-new insights come out of that, and brand-new ways to improve people’s lives,” said Maynard, who will be teaching introduction to risk innovation this fall. “The bottom line for the school is making a difference in society.”

The School for the Future of Innovation in Society launches this fall semester with master’s degrees in science and technology policy; global technology and development; and applied ethics in both biomedical and science. There is also a doctorate in human and social dimensions of science and technology, and a certificate in responsible innovation. An undergraduate program is being developed.

One of the students pursuing the school’s doctorate is Monamie Bhadra, who was awarded an American Institute for Indian Studies fellowship to study the Indian government’s decision to continue its plans for new nuclear plants.

She chose India as her case study for reasons both personal — she had spent only a few years there as a child and wanted to get to know the country better — and intellectual.

“India is a unique nation, holding the status of the world’s largest democracy, but also one with fault lines along caste, class, language and religion,” she said. “I wanted to know how developing nations and emerging democracies like India pursue high technologies like nuclear power, while at the same time having commitments to democratic governance.”

Science diplomacy — that tricky area where policy and technology must find common ground — is an area that the new school will be putting resources behind, Guston said. He has spent much of his career thinking about how science and democratic institutions can get along.

“Contrary to a lot of ways that the relationship between science and democracy are currently framed — through the lens of denial of anthropologic climate change or rejection of evolution — I actually think that there are many positive and mutually reinforcing relationships between science and democracy,” he said, “and that we should be more optimistic about some of the opportunities we have to democratize science and technology.”

Students at the new school will study the interplay of such diplomacy, environmental factors and that most intriguing of mysteries: the human factor. 

People have been the focus of the research of Jennifer Richter, an assistant professor who holds a joint appointment between the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Social Transformation.

Richter has a background in energy and community activism, branching from her research into nuclear waste; specifically, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“I was really intrigued by this idea of how we create these sacrifice zones” now uninhabitable to life, she said, “just out of convenience.”

She applies the same curiosity to renewable energy. Why isn’t Phoenix the “solar mecca of the universe?” she said. What are the reasons, political or technical, holding renewable energies back?

It is this sort of interplay between the scientific and the societal that will steer the new school.

“We like the cool gee-whiz stuff,” Richter said, “but we also really like the people.”

For more information about the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, visit

Penny Walker

News director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications