imaginAviation 2024 Panel: How Concepts Grow to be Innovation


Innovation. Resistance. Transformation. Collaboration. These ideas paved the way for a panel discussion at imaginAviation 2024, featuring guest John Marinaro, Torc’s Vice President of Fleet Operations, along with host Dr. John A. Cavolowsky, NASA’s Director, Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP), and guest Sheilla Torres-Nieves, Associate Professor, Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.

Among the more notable topics were resistance to innovation, transformational innovation, and inspiration for innovation.

Resistance to Innovation

When asked to provide examples of how to overcome an unwillingness to adopt innovation or accept change, Marinaro recounted a statement from the Columbia Accident Investigation board that “NASA Safety wasn’t as credible or competent as it should be.” He then explained: “I spent the rest of my career engineering that out of ever being said in an accident investigation again.” As he led innovation of a safety training program, he encountered resistance from some of the senior SMEs that training could be delivered online using revolutionary lecture-capture technology. However, thanks to beta testing, the program had 250 graduates on day one of the safety training’s deployment and proved a successful innovation.

At Torc, one of the primary challenges is resistance to the idea of self-driving vehicles replacing truck drivers. However, a shortage of drivers at the tune of 60,000, Marinaro explained, is disrupting the supply chain and resulting economics. Torc is looking to fill that gap. Marinaro indicated that Torc’s goal is to create safer conditions through technology that produces real-time reactions through awareness of a 360-degree environment, coupled with the reality that the truck doesn’t “get tired.” He concludes, “At the end day, we’re not going to replace the drivers. We’re just gonna augment them and make it safer.”

Transformational Innovation

When Dr. Cavolowsky posed the question of how we apply transformational innovation, how we get there and what kind of innovation we need to bring, Assistant Professor Torres-Nieves answered, “When we hear transformational, we think about changing the way we live drastically…changing culturally…changing from the fundamentals.” Torres-Nieves mentioned the “Change the World” talent competition offered at her university that she and a peer had engaged. In it, the competition gave both training and funding on how to push the idea out, get support, and advertise it to introduce transformational innovation into industry.

Marinaro offered a story regarding the integration of the Cirrus aircraft parachute system into aircraft which has proven to be a successful transformation in flight safety and resulted from an accident where it was clear the life-saving system was needed for pilots.

Inspiration for Innovation

Cavolowsky asked: “Our world is filled with so many issues and problems. How does one go about finding purpose or fulfillment in solving them?” Torres-Nieves’ suggested, “Do what you love.” She recommended aligning purpose with what you do – not that it’s not frustrating or challenging, but that you persist in spite of the challenges. Meanwhile, Marinaro agreed and expressed that one should continue to learn, to press forward. He said, “80% on time is better than 100% late.” To remedy this, he posed that individuals strategize realistic goals and pursue them to the finish, not necessarily to perfection.

View the entire panel above or on YouTube here.

“At the end day, we’re not going to replace the drivers. We’re just gonna augment them and make it safer.”

John Marinaro, Director of Fleet Operations

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