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The Grand Challenge: An Internal Endeavor to Spark Innovation

Jul 25, 2019
Stacy Honda, Marketing Manager & Ryan Griffin, Senior Systems Engineer

Grand Challenge

Grand Challenge MRBLSEarlier this year, Universal Avionics (UA) and Elbit Systems began an endeavor, called the “Grand Challenge,” to reach into the companies’ pool of talented personnel, encourage teamwork across office locations, and search for new ideas and features for an avionics control system to leapfrog what is currently provided by our competitors. Two baseline requirements for the new product were set; to utilize a touchscreen display and an ARINC 653 compliant Central Processing Unit (CPU). The sky was the limits for all other design factors!

Phase One

Preliminary concept presentations for Phase One of the Grand Challenge closed on May 22, 2019 and a week later, Phase One winners were announced. Winning presentations were judged based on criteria such as innovation, feasibility, cost, time to market, and a success rating. Based on how well these projects scored on these criteria, two teams were selected to advance to the next phase, Phase Two, which would be the final evaluation phase of the Grand Challenge. The two winning team names were “NOV8” and “MARBLS.”

Phase Two

NOV8 and MARBLS were able to successfully leverage the company multi-site IP and competencies in a collaborative way, build working prototypes and demonstrators on very short notice, and present unique and promising Human-Machine Interface (HMI) functions at a recent UA User’s Conference in early July 2019. For Phase Two, judges for the Grand Challenge used inputs from the UA User’s Conference, submitted in the form of written remarks, comments, and informal discussions. As a general statement, demonstrations were highly appreciated by the users.


Overall, the NOV8 concept was perceived as more innovative and promising, however MARBLS scored higher marks on technology maturity, time to market, and concept of operation. Congratulations are in order to our Grand Challenge winning team, MARBLS:

  • Brian Banks, Senior Software Engineer, UA Northwest Engineering Division
  • Cfir Aguston, Software Team Leader, Elbit Systems Engineering Division
  • Lorrie White, Southeastern US Regional Sales Manager, UA Sales Division
  • Mark Davis, Systems Engineer, UA Southeast Engineering Division
  • Raul Batista, Systems Engineer, UA Southeast Engineering Division
  • Rich Cummings, Software Engineer, UA Southeast Engineering Division
  • Trevor Fenwick, Software Engineer II, UA Southeast Engineering Division

Next Step

UA is now planning to undertake the task of including this winning team’s technology into the new Control Display Unit (CDU), which will meet the Grand Challenge goal to give UA and Elbit Systems an advantage in the marketplace. While details of the new product can’t be divulged yet, the following can be used to describe the new technology:

  • Logical: An intelligent method for HMI
  • Intuitive: Minimal learning curve
  • Efficient: Reduced pilot workload and reduced head-down operations
  • Accurate & Smart: Machine learning allows system to improve accuracy over time

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