University of Cincinnati bags NASA grant to improve drone navigation

university of Cincinnati drone navigation

NASA has awarded a small business grant to the University of Cincinnati (UC) to develop better autonomous navigation for drones.

Sharing this grant with Pennsylvania company VISIMO, UC is among 41 public institutions and 257 small businesses across the United States to have bagged a slice of the $50 million pie in Small Business Innovation Research grants from NASA.

Now, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science aerospace engineering professor Kelly Cohen will work with VISIMO to develop a testing environment that will evaluate the safety and stability of artificial intelligence algorithms used in autonomous drones.

Using 3D simulation, the project will assess complex sensor fusion and decision-making routines needed for the real-time autonomous navigation of drones.

The idea is to test the onboard AI systems for unexpected situations that may result in cascading failures, such as a sudden storm that knocks out a drone’s sensor or cameras.

Drone manufacturers should be able to use the testing environment created by UC and VISIMO to certify that the algorithms they are using for autonomous drone flight are safe to use in the national airspace.

Alex Moskowitz, the principal investigator for the grant and a data scientist at VISIMO, says the project could benefit applications for telehealth, search and rescue, delivery, and agriculture. Moskowitz says:

Drones are being deployed in emergencies and to deliver supplies to people when roads and bridges become impassable. Certification of autonomous aircraft is the first step toward operating beyond line of sight, which will revolutionize the use of these vehicles.

Alex Heit, vice president of partnerships and strategy at VISIMO, adds:

Kelly Cohen and his team at the University of Cincinnati are world-class experts in the field of autonomy. Their partnership brings a wealth of knowledge to VISIMO’s artificial intelligence and autonomy portfolio. We’ve seen historic success through partnering with Dr. Cohen on Air Force autonomy projects. Our NASA win marks the next stage in what we see as a rich, long-term partnership.

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