ASU team to improve next-generation air traffic control with $10M from NASA


May 25, 2017

Arizona State University is set to play a role in improving safe and efficient air travel across the country’s blue — perhaps bluest in Arizona — sky.

ASU is among five university research teams that were funded by NASA’s Aeronautics University Leadership Initiative to explore a novel idea to improve aviation. A five-year project, led by Yongming Liu, focuses on safely integrating the complex data sources that are driving the future of air traffic management systems. Graphic created by Pete Zrioka and Rose Serago/ASU Download Full Image

The award-winning, five-year project, totaling $10 million in total funding, focuses on safely integrating the complex data sources that are driving the future of air traffic management systems.

ASU’s Yongming Liu, the lead project investigator, is directing a diverse, multi-disciplinary team that includes several faculty in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, as well as collaborators from Vanderbilt University, Southwest Research Institute and Optimal Synthesis Inc. Liu is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Fulton Schools’ School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

NASA expects the awards to “spur the nation’s leading universities to take a larger leadership role in advancing the revolutionary ideas needed to transform aviation and further advance U.S. global leadership in the aviation community,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, in a press release.

Managing the interplay of data sources

ASU’s project surrounds what Liu refers to as the next-generation National Airspace System, known as NextGen NAS.

The National Airspace System covers the airspace, navigation facilities and airports of the United States along with its associated information, regulations, policies, personnel and equipment.

“NAS is in the process of undergoing a change from radar-based technology to surveillance systems-based operations within the next 10 years,” Liu said.

This is due to a multitude of new and existing aviation data sources becoming available, such as the use of voice and data communications, live weather forecasting, aircraft health data and GPS technology.

The availability of new technology and data sources promise the possibility of reducing aviation gridlock in the sky and at airports, cutting weather-related delays, and enabling air traffic controllers and pilots to see the same real-time display of air traffic for the first time.

Additionally, modernizing the nation's complex air transportation system boasts more efficient fuel usage by airlines, reduced aircraft emissions and increased access to airports by the general aviation community.

However, Liu and his collaborators foresee a problem with the integration of the enormous amount of information associated with the move toward NextGen NAS.

“The myriad of information offered by various data sources requires appropriate representation and proper fusion methodologies,” Liu said. “A critical issue surrounds the huge uncertainties arising from a variety of information sources such as aeronautical instrumentation, environment, intrinsic variabilities and human factors.”

Liu said, “Prognostics for the NAS must consider the uncertainties inherent in the system.”

“Managing the interplay of these data sources requires complex system modeling to ensure a safe transition to NextGen NAS operations,” said Liu, describing the drive behind his team’s proposal. “We are talking about a super complex human-cyber-physical system that has never been fully explored in the past.”

To this end, the team is addressing the urgent need to develop a system-wide prognostics framework — a way to successfully fuse a lot of information — for the proactive health management of the nation’s evolving airspace system.

In part, their contributions will allow the aviation community to simulate, test and interrogate possible failure modes within the data sources.

If successful, the proposed research will significantly advance the existing knowledge-base for the safety of the future national air traffic service operations — enhancing the system resiliency and safety of the future of air travel in the country.

Photo of Yongming Liu and Fraaz Tahir working in a lab with a caption of "Professor Yongming Liu (right) pictured with Fraaz Tahir, a mechanical engineering doctoral student. Liu is leading a $10 million project funded by NASA to make next-generation avia
Professor Yongming Liu (right) pictured with Fraaz Tahir, a mechanical engineering doctoral student. Liu is leading a $10 million project funded by NASA to make next-generation aviation safer and more efficient. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU

Crafting a diverse team

In addition to tackling a compelling technical challenge, another goal of NASA’s University Leadership Initiative is to support university researchers who lead diverse, multi-disciplinary teams.

ASU faculty working on the project include Aditi Chattopadhyay, Nancy Cooke, Pingbo Tang, Lei Ying, Jingrui He and Mary Niemcyzk — who represent five of the six Fulton Schools.

This faculty mix, along with additional collaborators from Vanderbilt, is integral to the proposed project, which Liu said “requires a very diverse team” ranging from structural engineers to big data analysts, and from image processors to psychologists, and from computer scientists to applied statisticians.

“We also seek for a smooth transition from academic research to field applications,” said Liu, explaining the importance of various disciplines as well as the involvement of the research institute, Southwest Research Institute, and private company, Optimal Synthesis Inc.

“The team is incredibly well-positioned to advance the state-of-the-art,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Squires said that the team’s success in winning this award “highlights a key strength of the Fulton Schools: the ability of our faculty to assemble into strong multi-disciplinary teams that award sponsors recognize as providing the novel, differentiated expertise crucial to addressing their challenges.”

In addition to the ASU-led team, additional University Leadership Initiative award recipients — selected from among 83 initial proposals and 20 final proposals — included the University of South Carolina, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Ohio State University.

“We’re excited our team was successful in convincing NASA that a multi-disciplinary information fusion is valuable to the future of their missions and in ensuring aviation safety,” Liu said.

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU heads to Fleet Week in NYC for Memorial Day weekend

Graduate to showcase photo documentary while Pat Tillman Veterans Center promotes ASU


May 26, 2017

Arizona State University heads to Fleet Week in New York City on Saturday to promote veteran programs and showcase the captivating photographs of the Veteran Vision Project by ASU graduate Devin Mitchell.

Mitchell’s work will be displayed over the weekend on monitors inside the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and outside along Pier 86 next to the ship in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. Sailors and Marines man the rails of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) as it passes the Statue of Liberty during the 29th annual Fleet Week New York's Parade of Ships. Fleet Week New York is an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of New York and the surrounding tri-state area to meet sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as witness the latest capabilities of today's military. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Travis Simmons/Released) Download Full Image

A spring 2017 graduate with a bachelor of science in sociology, Mitchell will share space with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center during the 29th year event that will celebrate the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard. 

“As a top school for veterans in the U.S., this is an outstanding opportunity for us to fly the ASU flag in the heart of our nation’s most prominent city during Fleet Week 2017,” said Nancy Dallett, assistant director of ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement. “Devin’s work is a great example of how the institution’s commitment to veterans, including the opportunity for helping them tell their stories, extends beyond just the veterans center.”

The Veteran Vision Project is a photo documentary, featuring real military service members and their lives, as captured by Mitchell. The project started in August 2014 as Mitchell traveled the West Coast searching for veteran stories to illustrate through the art of pictures.  

Mitchell’s work with the Veteran Vision Project has been featured on CBS News, GQ Magazine, the Washington Post and many other national and local media outlets.

Fleet Week will also provide ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center the opportunity to engage directly with the large number of visitors expected during the week-long celebration and share the inspiring message about the accomplishments of student veterans.

“Military experience combined with a college education makes veterans extremely valuable to employers and to our communities, and at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center we dedicate our energy to help student veterans succeed,” said Steven Borden, director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center at ASU. “I cannot think of a better place than New York City during Fleet Week to spread the word about the success our veterans are having in higher education and to celebrate our men and women of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.”

Fleet Week New York started Wednesday and runs until Tuesday. It is the city’s time-honored celebration of the sea services, which has been held just about every year since 1984. Organizers expect up to 15,000 spectators daily visiting the various venues that will have nearly 5,000 military members participating in the public visits to the ships, staffing exhibits, concerts and military demonstrations.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications