Future of air mobility focus of latest NASA collaboration

Posted: December 9, 2022

A team of researchers from Mosaic ATM and The Ohio State University Department of Integrated Systems Engineering earned a NASA Small Business Innovation Research grant to facilitate effective teaming between humans and automation in highly automated future air transportation. 

Alicia Fernandes profile

The funded research is part of NASA's Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Mission, which will help emerging aviation markets to safely develop an air transportation system that moves people and cargo between places previously not served or underserved by aviation – local, regional, intraregional, urban – using revolutionary new aircraft that are only just now becoming possible. AAM includes NASA’s work on Urban Air Mobility and will provide substantial benefit to U.S. industry and the public. 

Mosaic ATM’s Alicia Fernandes, an alumna of Ohio State ISE, serves as principal investigator with ISE- and Aerospace Research Center-affiliated Assistant Professor Martijn IJtsma serving as the principal investigator for Ohio State’s portion of the project. 

“Ohio State is taking on a part of further designing this future air traffic management system, focusing on how to support human-automation and human-human coordination during contingency planning,” said IJtsma. 

Martijn IJstma profile

He added that NASA envisions future air traffic operations that are more highly automated, with advanced technology and algorithms, as well as innovations in artificial intelligence. “It is an open question how the various parties, such as pilots, fleet operators and service suppliers, including automated services, should coordinate during a contingency.”  

“This is a highly complex system, with new kinds of safety risks that require increased support for the system to plan for and mitigate these risks,” IJtsma said. “We also know from other safety-critical systems, that there is a very important role for humans to make the system adaptive.” 

While further developing the operations and the supporting systems, humans should be considered an integral contributor to the system safety and resilience.

“When analyzing system performance, if we draw system boundaries and only include autonomous capabilities, we haven’t drawn the boundaries wide enough. Human involvement and interaction with people are key to developing successful air mobility systems.” 

According to IJtsma, the project’s first step is “modeling the parties involved in air traffic management – remote pilots, operators and service suppliers – and the functions and tasks they will need to perform.” 

The researchers then will input the data to computer simulation, which creates a real scenario for crewed and uncrewed aerial vehicles to determine potential challenges and risks. “This gives us predictions of system performance without having to fully build and test it,” he said. “The predictions are specifically focused on understanding the interactions and teamwork required between humans and automation, and between humans. 

“To enable robust and resilient air mobility, the key is not just looking at the composite level but looking at the system level to make it work. How well the system can manage contingencies is ultimately determined by the interaction and coordination between the various parts of the system. Our research looks at how we can best support that interaction and coordination.” 

edited version of article appearing on ISE website

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