Claire Tomlin, 34
Writes software that could alleviate air congestion and lead to far fewer delays at airports
FORGET ABOUT the need to build more runways; Claire Tomlin’s computer models and software could eliminate airport congestion. The assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University has created prototype software that allows planes to detect one another, fly closer together, avoid bad weather, and automatically maneuver to avoid midair collisions. Using the system, air traffic controllers might achieve far greater efficiencies, which should translate into fewer delays for passengers. Although testing for commercial air traffic use is still a decade away, Boeing researchers in St. Louis, MO, already use Tomlin’s software to ensure safe coordination of groups of unmanned aerial vehicles. Tomlin’s innovations make her a leader in a new field that provides both optimal solutions to complex logistical problems and ultrasafe software control of mechanical systems, says Richard Murray ,a mechanical engineer at Caltech. Tomlin’s methods, he says, are critical for anyone who “cares about verifying that systems do what they are supposed to do.” Her advanced software won’t be ready for use in civilian aircraft for at least 10 years, but because of her work, change is already in the air.