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 Report Identifies Barriers to Successful Incorporation of Increasingly Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft

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Date posted: 07/06/2014

While civil aviation is on the threshold of potentially revolutionary changes with the emergence of increasingly autonomous unmanned aircraft, these new systems pose serious questions about how they will be safely and efficiently integrated into the existing civil aviation structure, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report identifies key barriers and provides a research agenda to aid the orderly incorporation of unmanned and autonomous aircraft into public airspace.

“There is little doubt that over the long run the potential benefits of advanced unmanned aircraft and other increasingly autonomous systems to civil aviation will indeed be great, but there should be equally little doubt that getting there while maintaining the safety and efficiency of the nation’s civil aviation system will be no easy matter,” said John-Paul Clarke, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and associate professor of aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The report uses the term “increasingly autonomous” systems to describe a spectrum of technologies, from unmanned aircraft that are piloted remotely – which describes most such aircraft currently in use -- to advanced autonomous systems for unmanned aircraft that would adapt to changing conditions and require little or no human intervention. Increasingly autonomous systems could also be used in crewed aircraft and air traffic management systems to lessen the need for human monitoring and control.

Development of such systems is accelerating, prompted by the promise of a range of applications, such as unmanned aircraft that could be used to dust crops, monitor traffic, or execute dangerous missions currently undertaken by crewed planes, such as fighting forest fires. The FAA currently prohibits commercial use of unmanned aircraft without a waiver or special authorization.

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate requested that the Research Council convene a committee to develop a national research agenda for autonomy in civil aviation.

One critical, crosscutting goal that must be achieved before increasingly autonomous aircraft and other systems can reach their full potential is ensuring that they will perform with the high level of safety and reliability expected of civil aviation systems, says the report. It identifies specific technological, regulatory, and other barriers that must be overcome in order to reach that goal.

See the full Story via external site: www8.nationalacademies.org



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