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Graphic showing cellphone displaying ECOtory app. Text reads: ECOTory, a sustainable inventory. Application programming interface, plugs into individual airline databases, reduces waste by allowing pre-selection of airline amenities for individuals when booking flights.
Texas A&M University's ECOtory team developed an app that allows airline passengers to exchange unwanted meals and amenities for airline miles. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

Within 48 hours, students from over 31 universities worldwide competed with Texas A&M University in the 2020 Invent for the Planet (IFTP) competition to solve critical issues the planet is facing. The competition was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Teams from each institute were locally judged, and the top three teams were recognized. The first-place teams were then selected to perfect their business venture and compete against each other. Later, the top five teams from each institute competed for a final round.

Students also had the opportunity to apply their product to a startup with the College of Engineering's Engineering Inc. program.

ECOtory, the team from Texas A&M, placed second in the final round of the global competition. The team's idea was to create a program that provides airlines with an accurate preflight assessment of customer preferences for food and other amenities. This allowed airline passengers to exchange unwanted meals and amenities for airline miles. It helped airlines gauge passenger needs, drastically reducing in-flight waste while potentially saving airlines millions of dollars in fuel consumption due to lighter flights.

"From all the ideas we discussed with the team, we came to this conclusion considering what could be the fastest and easiest innovation to implement for airline companies," said Claire Gregoire, class of 2024 doctoral student in mechanical engineering. "The potential of this idea increased while COVID-19 issues emerged."

The team consisted of students from across the College of Engineering, which allowed them to implement each person's strengths to create an impactful solution.

"Through IFTP, I further developed and positively tested many essential skills required to be a successful engineer, and one of them was teamwork," said Noble Gutierrez '23, a master's student in mechanical engineering. "Our team leveraged our diversity to generate creative ideas, navigated differing opinions and hurdles well through effective communication, and formed a great team atmosphere that was conducive to developing a winning solution."

After the competition, Gutierrez continued working on the idea with Sven Lohse, a senior mechanical engineer through Engineering Inc. However, they could not continue due to the constraints of their schedules.

"Participating in the IFTP provided me with a higher level of confidence in my engineering abilities and an increased belief that I have what it takes to lead a successful engineering career," Gutierrez said.

Find out more about Invent for the Planet!