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NASA awards Ohio University, Reliable Robotics, and partners USD6 million to advance autonomous operations

Ohio University and Reliable Robotics, a company producing safety-enhancing aircraft automation systems, have announced a funding award from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to advance autonomous aircraft operations. The participants’ project was awarded USD6 million through NASA’s University Leadership Initiative (ULI) which seeks to fund new, innovative projects that support the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) portfolio and the United States aviation community.

“The project team is composed of additional university and industry partners including Illinois Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Tufts University, Stanford University and Veth Research Associates LLC, with Boeing serving as a collaborator” according to the press release.

“As large uncrewed aircraft get closer to operating out of commercial airports, advanced navigation technologies are needed to automatically taxi aircraft without a pilot onboard. The funds will primarily be used by Ohio University and the partner universities to develop and evaluate technologies that will enable aircraft to automatically position and navigate around the airport. These technologies will be selected based on guidance from industry experts like Reliable Robotics. The project will cover requirements development, technology maturation and flight testing with the goal of achieving Technology Readiness Level 6 prototypes, which can subsequently be quickly deployed.

“A key outcome of the project is to advance industry standards around automatic taxi systems such as those actively being developed by RTCA. RTCA is a nonprofit standards development organisation which drives industry consensus for standards which are used as a means of compliance with regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). OHIO, Reliable Robotics and other team members are involved in the RTCA working group, SC-159 (Navigation Equipment Using the Global Navigation Satellite System) and working group SC-228 (Minimum Performance Standards for Uncrewed Aircraft Systems), with Reliable Robotics holding leadership positions in the latter.

“The autonomous flight system developed by Reliable Robotics includes an “always on” autopilot designed to handle all phases of aircraft operation including autotaxi, autotakeoff, and autolanding. In November 2023, Reliable Robotics flew a Cessna 208B Caravan with a remote pilot commanding the aircraft and handling all voice communications from 50 miles away.”

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(Image: Joe Timmerman)

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