NASA University Leadership Initiative Taps Costello and Vamvoudakis to Help with $8M Research

NASA University Leadership Initiative Taps Costello and Vamvoudakis to Help with $8M Research
ULI 2020 Participant Georgia Tech Aerospace Engineering Prof. Kyriakos Vamvoudakis
Prof. Kyriakos Vamvoudakis

A recently announced NASA University Leadership Initiative (ULI) grant is allowing Aerospace Engineering professors Mark F. Costello and Kyriakos Vamvoudakis to collaborate with colleagues from academia and industry on solutions to wide-ranging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) challenges.

The four-year, $8 million Safe and Secure Autonomy Project will be headed up by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C.A&T) and include collaborations with researchers from Purdue University, Aurora Flight Sciences, Alaka’i Technologies Corporation, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman Corporation. Joining Costello and Vamvoudakis from Georgia Tech will be Sam Coogan (ECE) and Judy Hoffman (COC).

Technical Challenges for Safe & Secure

To accomplish its goals, the Safe and Secure Autonomy Project divided its research into four technical challenges, and an outreach mission.

  • Safe Perception, Coordination, Planning, and Navigation
    This will focus on developing flexible and adaptive coordination and control algorithms for Urban Air Mobility (UAM).)

    Vamvoudakis said the Safe and Assured Autonomy Project will give him an opportunity to coordinate different vehicles in complex operational surroundings, verify and validate autonomous system operation, and integrate new vehicles and traffic management approaches into autonomous environments. 

  • Secured Autonomy
    This will focus on the development of secure algorithms for future UAM. Cyber-physical characteristics will address both conventional data security and physical security.
  • Verification and Validation and Testing and Evaluation
    This will focus on the development of  verification and validation procedures to provide provable guarantees of correctness of the UAM software and support certification of the developed technologies through testing and evaluation.
  • System Integration
    This will focus on the Integrattion of TC 1-3 products through dependency analytics, integrated simulation, and experimental flight tests through fast-learning cycles.
  • Education and Outreach
    This non-technical challenge will promote partner universities’ students and K-12 students/teachers to train the future STEM workforce.

Collectively, the Safe and Secure Autonomy team will seek to develop a novel integration of secure and safe autonomous systems used on unmanned Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft with the goal of advancing their technical readiness level and be ready for industry to consider using these technologies.

The team intends to validate these systems with flight tests of multiple aircraft. The Project will also address traffic congestion by developing, testing and eventually deploying autonomy algorithms for autonomous vehicles such as air passenger taxis as a supplemental means of transportation.

“We won’t have the luxury of physical space to build more roads as the populations in urban areas continue to grow,” said Abdollah Homaifar, Ph.D., principal investigator and a NASA Langley Distinguished Professor in the  NCA&T's College of Engineering.

“I am excited for this collaboration as we are addressing real challenges in our society that require solutions that one group cannot provide alone.”

To achieve and sustain its long-term goals, the Project will offer hands-on research for both undergraduate and graduate students and support outreach opportunities that introduce K-12 students to engineering.

“The project leverages interdisciplinary expertise to engineer new capabilities in unmanned Advanced Air Mobility,” said N.C.A&T's College of Engineering dean Robin N. Coger, Ph.D.

“This project is a wonderful example of the scale of innovation possible when research universities, industry, and NASA partner together.”

Vamvoudakis welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with his AE colleague, Prof. Mark Costello, and with the many engineers who are partnering on the identified challenges (see sidebar) for this project.

"The last few decades have witnessed uninterrupted growth in traditional commercial aviation, and this has put tremendous pressure on the National Airspace System," he said.

"The recent introduction of unmanned systems expands the opportunities but also adds to the challenges on the nation's aviation system."

A total of five collaborative teams will be involved in the 2020 round of NASA's University Leadership Initiative (ULI)  - a novel research venture in which the universities (not NASA) are tasked with developing substantiative investigations that also address NASA's research thrusts.

All of the student researchers involved in the ULI teams are expected to gain critical experience leading a multidisciplinary team made up of partners from other universities and industry, especially representing those who traditionally have not applied their skills to aviation problems.

 

 

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