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Advanced Air Mobility Looks Ahead to Automation

Artists rendering, aircraft over city.
Several projects supporting NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility or AAM mission are working on different elements to help make AAM a reality and one of these research areas is automation. This concept graphic shows how elements of automation could be integrated into a future airspace. Technology like this could enable vehicles to operate without a pilot, or if a pilot is in the loop, increase the safety.

Read this feature in Spanish here.

Using software to handle tasks to assist people is not a new concept – look at our computers, cell phones or electric cars.

Advanced Air Mobility, or 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.

Once developed, passengers and cargo will travel on-demand in innovative, automated aircraft across town, between neighboring cities, or to other locations typically accessed today by car.

NASA’s AAM Mission is researching automation. This is key for the future of AAM as many of the vehicles will have algorithms integrated to help the vehicle fly and perform tasks. The software will perform airspace communication, flight path management, avoidance with other vehicles, and more skills needed to operate in a busy airspace.

Integration of Automated Systems

One of these efforts is the AAM National Campaign’s Integration of Automated Systems, or IAS series. 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 will use a highly modified research aircraft to evaluate a variety of automation technologies and algorithms that are under test 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.  

Automated Flight and Contingency Management

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. 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 goal 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.

Air Traffic Management-eXploration

Another effort is the Air Traffic Management-eXploration project. This project is researching 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.

They are researching future airspace service models that allow for strategic and tactical conflict resolution between aircraft. These models could also manage airspace capacity and demand. The team is currently simulating UAM flights with airspace industry partners in an activity called X4, to prepare for NC-1. This activity includes developing and testing to ensure scalable operations.

System Wide Safety

The System-Wide Safety project is evaluating how automation and other new technologies can impact safety by analyzing potential operational and design risks. One effort is developing the In-time Aviation Safety Management System, which can automate safety assurance and risk management functions performed manually today.

System-Wide Safety is also evaluating and creating design assurance approaches that allow the team to make sure the automation is as safe, or even safer than the systems we use today.

Transformational Tools and Technologies

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 will include aircraft flying without a pilot in the loop by using advanced sensing capabilities and control algorithms that can handle emergency situations.

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.

NASA’s vision for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is to map out a safe, accessible, and affordable new air transportation system alongside industry partners and the FAA. An important aspect of AAM is the development of automated systems and operation, which will allow vehicles to fly safer and more efficient. In this episode of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Playbook, Deputy Project Manager of Technology Kenneth Goodrich explains some of the research and key components of automation.