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Watch NASA video: “AAM looks ahead to automation”

By Chris Stonor

This NASA’s blog article written by Teresa Whiting from the Armstrong Flight Research Centre, opens with “Using software to handle tasks to assist people is not a new concept – look at our computers, cell phones or electric cars.”

It goes on, “Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), aircraft intend to apply that same idea with new software algorithms and hardware such as sensors and radars. Technology like this could enable vehicles to operate without a pilot, or if a pilot is in the loop, increase the safety. Use cases include helping the vehicle avoid bad weather, other aircraft, and safely take off and land.”

Whiting then explains that once developed, passengers and cargo will travel on-demand in “innovative, automated aircraft across town, between neighbouring cities, or to other locations typically accessed today by car.”

NASA’s mission is to research automation as it believes this is the key for the AAM future as a majority of the craft will have algorithms integrated to help the vehicle fly and perform tasks. The aim is that such software will perform “airspace communication, flight path management, avoidance with other vehicles and more skills needed to operate in a busy airspace.”

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One of these is the AAM National Campaign’s Integration of Automated Systems or IAS series. Whiting says, “IAS seeks to test and validate how to use automation software and sensors in future AAM aircraft.  IAS-1 is slated for later this year, and will kick-off a multi-year test campaign that will focus on testing automation needed to enable scalable Urban Air Mobility (UAM) operations.”

During IAS-1, the team is to use a modified research aircraft to evaluate a variety of automation technologies and algorithms that are under trial within the AAM project.  Eventually, the algorithms will be able to automate all tasks needed to safely transit through the national airspace, and will respond to a variety of conditions or hazards that may impact the aircraft’s flight path.

Atlanta, Georgia downtown aerial view

AAM’s Automated Flight and Contingency Management subproject, is researching automation for highly-integrated vehicle and pilot interface systems. “The automation for AAM will go beyond what is used in commercial transports today,” writes Whiting. “This works by assigning full responsibility of certain tasks to the technology, which allows for an added layer of safety for the pilot in the case of hazards.”

The aim is to support “new standards creation for vehicle and pilot interface systems, enabling collaborative and responsible automation. Simulator testing is happening now and plans include testing on aircraft.”

Other research includes the Air Traffic Management-eXploration project on how to transform the current air traffic management system into a more digitally integrated system with new airspace management technologies and services in preparation for AAM.

A team is researching future airspace service models that allow for “strategic and tactical conflict resolution between aircraft.” These models could also manage airspace capacity and demand. This research group is presently simulating UAM flights with airspace industry partners in an activity called X4, to prepare for NC-1 to ensure scalable operations.

The System-Wide Safety project is evaluating how automation and other new technologies can impact safety by analysing potential operational and design risks. One area is the development of In-time Aviation Safety Management System that can “automate safety assurance and risk management functions performed manually today.”

This includes evaluating design assurance approaches which allow the team to make certain the automation is as safe or even safer than the systems used today.

The Transformational Tools and Technologies project is creating “new automation technology to help operators on the ground manage the potential volume of uncrewed aircraft in the sky at one time, enabling a larger scale of operations than can be achieved today.” This future method of operating is to include autonomous aircraft by using advanced sensing capabilities and control algorithms that can handle emergency situations.

Whiting concludes, “NASA’s vision for AAM is to map out a safe, accessible, and affordable new air transportation system alongside industry partners and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

(Images: NASA/Graphics)

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