We’re working toward a future where passenger air taxis and drone deliveries are to become a part of everyday mobility. But how will these autonomous systems access important information, such as deteriorating weather conditions, to complete each flight safely? To address this issue, NASA researchers are exploring the creation of a decentralized data and reasoning hub that would help autonomous aircraft to make critical safety decisions rapidly.
NASA’s Data & Reasoning Fabric (DRF) would work in a manner similar to how people use navigation apps to access different kinds of data – maps, accident reports, traffic conditions, roadwork status, etc. Just like these apps help us decide the best route to take at the time, NASA’s DRF would send aircraft information tailored for their missions.
How will NASA DRF for drones and air taxis work?
Think of DRF as a digital “marketplace” where providers of weather services, mapping and surveying firms, air traffic management, etc., can come together to offer data and reasoning services to aircraft operators via digital agreements. In turn, operators can also offer the data and reasoning resources they have acquired.
So, when a delivery drone connects to DRF, it would be able to access information from a weather station, a detailed map from city authorities, and the locations of nearby aircraft – all assembled using data from the marketplace.
Once the drone has all the required information, it can understand using its own software that the weather is acceptable, that it should fly above 200 feet to avoid a building, and that it must allow room for an air taxi flying nearby. However, if the weather is not conducive, decision support tools enabled by DRF could provide the drone with a new flight route that avoids weather and obstacle dangers.
The DRF project is being spearheaded by NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. At present, the vision is to address the needs of an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) system, but DRF can prove useful for the broader transportation network as well. You can learn more about DRF here.