Getting Past Barriers to Embrace Profound Changes in Civil Aviation Written 15 June 2016

Baggage handlers load an Air France plane. Credit: Associated Press–©

Speaker: John-Paul Clarke, professor, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, and director, Air Transportation Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology

by David HodesAerospace America contributing writer

Research shows there are barriers to overcome as the movement toward an autonomous system that can operate with less human intervention gets closer every day, John-Paul Clarke said June 15 at the 2016 AIAA Demand for Unmanned Symposium in Washington, D.C.

During a session titled “The Autonomy ‘Dream,’” Clarke, professor at the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering and director of the Air Transportation Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology, spoke of research findings from a National Research Council committee of 17 technologists and representatives from academia.

“We discussed what autonomy is and what it is not,” he said. “We also talked about the fact that we are moving in a continuum, moving toward increasingly autonomous systems.”

One example he cited is the potential application of an autonomous baggage car vehicle at an airport.

“The biggest causes of flight delays is that those drivers drive into the airplanes,” Clarke said. “An autonomous vehicle would not do that.”

He said the committee agreed there are three barriers to the implementation of more autonomous systems: regulation and certification, legal and social issues, and technology.

“The certification regime relies on the judgment of people and how the process is followed,” Clarke said, adding that people also must learn to trust adaptive systems.

“We as humans say look into someone’s eyes and say ‘I trust this person or that person,’” he said. “But whose eyes do you look into on an autonomous vehicle to say I trust that?”

The social barrier centers more on the public’s negative perception of drones, he said.

“If a drone flies by your window to make a delivery next door, how do you know that it is not monitoring what you are doing?” Clarke asked. “Those concerns have to be addressed.”

Regarding technology, it’s common practice for hobbyists and lower-level drone operators to send an update to fix a bug in an unmanned aerial system, but that nontraditional process of engineering does not work for the UAS industry, he said.

“Those methodologies don’t come from the same pedigree as we have in aviation,” Clarke said.

Civil aviation is on the threshold of profound changes, Clarke said, and stakeholders need to get more involved.

“We think that the FAA is in the best position today to lead the resolution of legal and social issues and help us develop the technology by issuing new guidance materials,” he said.


All 2016 AIAA AVIATION Forum Videos