September 14, 2021

ECE grad student’s in-flight training tool, Aura, selected as finalist in national invention competition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University graduate student Mahdi Al-Husseini thinks his flight-training innovation can help the U.S. military save millions in reduced training time for Army helicopter pilots.

Pursuing a graduate degree in Purdue’s Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Al-Husseini and his Stanford University teammate Joshua Barnett have been named finalists in the 2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Their dynamic flight-training solution, called Aura, analyzes instrument displays using a pipeline of computer vision and machine learning techniques, then identifies the maneuver being performed and creates performance reports accordingly for in-flight and post-flight review.

Al-Husseini and Barnett estimate their system can lead to a 10% reduction in training time for U.S. Army helicopter pilots, potentially saving the Army $106 million per year.

“As an active-duty aeromedical evacuations officer for the U.S. Army, I pilot an HH-60M Sikorsky Black Hawk to evacuate wounded soldiers to nearby hospitals,” said Al-Husseini, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, serving as an active-duty aeromedical evacuations officer with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii.

“My ability to fly affects not only myself and my crew, but also patients who may require lifesaving care. Aura was developed to ensure improved aviation mission execution and to reduce the number of aircraft accidents caused by pilot error.”

Their startup Aura Training Systems won a $25,000 prize in Purdue’s 34th annual Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition in May.

Now, the duo joins five other teams in the graduate division of the Collegiate Inventors Competition. Finalists were selected based on originality of the idea, process, level of student initiative, and potential value and usefulness to society.

“Training pilots is an intensive process that ensures plane and helicopter operation is safe,” Al-Husseini and Barnett wrote in their submission. “However, pilots in most aircraft, especially noncommercial, nonpassenger aircraft, lack real-time access to meaningfully processed flight data. Aura is the first tool to allow pilots to track maneuver data dynamically in-flight.”

The Purdue-Stanford team will present their invention Oct. 13 in a virtual format to a panel of final-round judges composed of National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officials. Winning teams will be announced Oct. 14.

“I am honored to be selected as a finalist for the 2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition and to represent Purdue University,” Al-Husseini said. “Most importantly, I look forward to continuing to design and prototype new inventions that support our nation’s best – our military service members.”

Established in 1990, the competition is a program of the NIHF and is sponsored by the USPTO and Arrow Electronics.

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Source: Collegiate Inventors Competition:

Media contact: Brian Huchel,

Source: Mahdi Al-Husseini,

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