The air transportation system is on the verge of drastic change. Enabled by technological advances in areas including electric propulsion, and machine learning, emerging vehicles have the potential to drastically lower transportation costs. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities enabled by distributed electric propulsion (DEP) are expanding operational flexibility, and will allow vehicles to takeoff and land in nearly any area, including dense urban areas. With autonomous and highly augmented operations on the rise, companies such as Uber and Amazon envision Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Operations including both high-density Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and rural area operations. These AAM operations will provide rapid “air-taxi” and cargo services. Future vehicles and operations will give rise to a wide variety of new safety issues as well as require new approaches to address long-standing issues that have, to date, been handled by well-trained human pilots. Among the most important is the ability to safely conduct an emergency landing. The proposed autonomous LiDAR-supported Emergency Landing System for AAM (LELSA) emulates the perception, cognition, and decision making of expert operators to provide an onboard capability for crewed and uncrewed aircraft to accomplish the complex emergency (precautionary or forced) landing task autonomously. This LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) enhanced autonomous emergency landing system leverages both existing data and data acquired through in-flight perception (LiDAR) to: (1) locate potential emergency landing sites; (2) continuously generate precautionary and forced landing plans that maximize both the quality of LiDAR-based site assessment updates and the likelihood of a safe landing; (3) continuously update its on-board site assessments based on incoming LiDAR data (newly acquired knowledge); and (4) provide emergency flight plan information to the existing on-board flight computer.
The LELSA system directly addresses interests of the Integrated Aviation Systems Program including providing perception as well as “cognition and multi-objective decision making” capabilities (intelligent planning and execution) and a “higher degree of resilience to off-nominal conditions” (minimum risk emergency recovery). The research conducted in support of product development is relevant to NASA ARMD’s Strategic Thrusts 5 (RSSA) and 6 (Assured Autonomy). LELSA naturally fits into the NASA Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign.
The proposed research has a high-transition potential to other government agencies and commercial users. Among commercial users, the target market is the AAM vehicle designers and operators who require a compact off-the-shelf emergency landing system that can be easily customized to vehicle-specific performance parameters.