For the Media | News and Announcements

NASA awards Ohio University, Reliable Robotics and partners $6 million to advance autonomous aircraft tech and industry standards

Ohio University and Reliable Robotics, a leader in safety-enhancing aircraft automation systems, announced a funding award from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to advance autonomous aircraft operations. The project was awarded $6 million through NASA’s University Leadership Initiative (ULI), which seeks to fund new, innovative projects that support the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) portfolio and the United States aviation community. The project team is composed of university and industry partners including Illinois Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and its Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Tufts University, Stanford University, and Veth Research Associates LLC, with Boeing serving as a collaborator.

“NASA's ULI program provides the opportunity for leading universities and top industry partners to leverage their collective expertise to drive advancements in aviation technologies. With a background of over 60 years of experience in the field and unique extensive flight-testing facilities, including an airport, the Ohio University Avionics Engineering Center (AEC) can provide a substantial contribution to this project," said Sabrina Ugazio, Ph.D., the project lead and principal investigator at Ohio University, assistant professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and faculty member of the Ohio University AEC. “The goal is to enhance autonomous aviation operations, primarily through advanced navigation technologies and with an emphasis on ensuring safety. Andrew Videmsek, Reliable Robotics engineer and OU alumnus, collaborated closely with us on the proposal to define very specific technical challenges critical to autonomous flight.”

A key outcome of the project is to advance industry standards around automatic taxi systems, such as those actively being developed by RTCA. RTCA is a nonprofit standards development organization that drives industry consensus for standards, which are used as a means of compliance with regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). OHIO, Reliable Robotics and other team members are involved in the RTCA working group, SC-159 (Navigation Equipment Using the Global Navigation Satellite System) and working group SC-228 (Minimum Performance Standards for Uncrewed Aircraft Systems), with Reliable Robotics holding leadership positions in the latter.

“When it comes to aviation standards, industry consensus is key,” said Robert Rose, CEO and co-founder of Reliable Robotics. “This important university-industry collaboration funded by NASA will directly inform the automatic taxi standards being developed within RTCA and in turn help streamline the process to receive operational approval of these systems from regulatory bodies such as the FAA.”

The autonomous flight system developed by Reliable Robotics includes an “always on” autopilot designed to handle all phases of aircraft operation including auto taxi, auto takeoff and auto landing. In November 2023, Reliable Robotics flew a Cessna 208B Caravan with a remote pilot, commanding the aircraft and handling all voice communications from 50 miles away, making aviation history.

As large uncrewed aircraft get closer to operating out of commercial airports, advanced navigation technologies are needed to automatically taxi aircraft without a pilot onboard. The funds will primarily be used by Ohio University and the partner universities to evaluate technologies that will enable aircraft to automatically position and navigate around the airport. These technologies will be selected based on guidance from industry experts like Reliable Robotics. The project will cover requirements development, technology maturation and flight testing, with the goal of achieving Technology Readiness Level 6, marked by a prototype or system model demonstration that can then be quickly deployed. Much of the testing will take place at OHIO’s Gordon K. Bush Airport, home of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s Avionics Engineering Center fleet of test aircraft.

“The research and flight tests will address navigation system integrity, improving safety and enabling the adoption of these technologies for safe, efficient autonomous aircraft operations,” added Dr. Ugazio. “While the focus is on autonomous aviation, this research is potentially setting the stage for future breakthroughs in both airborne and terrestrial operations.”

March 21, 2024
Staff reports