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Future of air mobility latest NASA-ISE collaboration


With drone delivery and urban air mobility destined to be the wave of the future, NASA awarded a team of researchers from Mosaic ATM and the Ohio State ISE Department a project to analyze how to enable safe and resilient transportation of people and cargo through the national airspace. 

The project is part of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Mission, which includes Advanced Air Mobility, Air Traffic Management eXploration, Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology, System-Wide Safety and Transformational Tools and Technologies. 

ISE Assistant Professor Martijn IJtsma
ISE Assistant Professor Martijn IJtsma

Ohio State ISE will work with Mosaic ATM — an R&D, engineering and commercial solutions firm — through a NASA Phase I Small Business Innovation Research award. Mosaic ATM’s Dr. Alicia Fernandes, an alumnus of Ohio State ISE, serves as the principal investigator with ISE Assistant Professor Martijn IJtsma serving as the principal investigator for Ohio State’s portion of the project. 

IJtsma says, “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.” 

He says 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 says, adding. “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,” IJtsma says, “we haven’t drawn the boundaries wide enough. Human involvement and interaction with people are key to developing successful air mobility systems.” 

He says 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 says. “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.” 

He adds that the applications are endless, giving examples that include transporting medical organs by drone or providing air taxi services to and from an airport. 


Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty