A smart autoflight control system infrastructure




Heinemann, Stephan

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Connected aviation, the Internet of Flying Things and related emerging technologies, such as the System-Wide Information Management infrastructure of the FAA NextGen program, present numerous opportunities for the aviation sector. The ubiquity of aeronautical, flight, weather, aerodrome, and maintenance data accelerates the development of smarter software systems to cope with the ever increasing requirements of the industry sector. The increasing amount, frequency and variety of real-time data available to modern air transport and tactical systems, and their crews, creates exciting new challenges and research opportunities. We present an architectural approach toward the vision of increasingly self-separating and self-governed flight operations within the bigger picture of an evolving set of future Autonomous Flight Rules. The challenges in this field of research are manifold and include autonomic airborne trajectory optimization, data sharing, fusion and information derivation, the incorporation of and communication with rational actors—both human and machine—via a connected aviation infrastructure, to facilitate smarter decision making and support while generating economical, environmental and tactical advantages. We developed a concept and prototype implementation of our Smart Autoflight Control System. The concept and implemented system follow the design principle of an Autonomic Element, consisting of an Autonomic Manager and its Managed Element, acting within an Autonomic Context. The Managed Element concept embraces an infrastructure featuring suitable models of manageable environments, airborne agents, planners, applicable operational cost and risk policies, and connections to the System-Wide Information Management cloud as well as to relevant rational actors, such as Air Traffic Control, Command and Control, Operations or Dispatch. The Autonomic Manager concept incorporates the extraction, that is, short-term sensing, of features from operational scenarios and the categorization of these scenarios according to their level of criticality and associated flight phase. The Autonomic Manager component, furthermore, continuously tunes, that is, actuates, manageable items of its Managed Element, such as environments and planners, and triggers competitions to assess their performance under the various extracted and dynamically changing features of their Autonomic Context. The performance reputations of the tuned manageable items are collected in a knowledge base and may serve as a long-term sensor. Both the managed items of the Managed Element as well the managing items of the Autonomic Manager are extendable and may realize very different paradigms, including deterministic, non-deterministic, heuristically guided, and biologically inspired approaches. We assessed the extensibility and maintainability of our Smart Autoflight Control System infrastructure by including manageable environments and planners of the Classical Grid Search, Probabilistic Roadmaps, and Rapidly-Exploring Random Trees families into its core component. Furthermore, we evaluated the viability of a simple heuristic and a more sophisticated Sequential Model-Based Algorithm Configuration Autonomic Manager to adaptively select and tune manageable planners of the supported families based on the extracted features from very simple to highly challenging scenarios. We were able to show that a self-adaptive approach, that heuristically tunes and selects the best performing planner following a performance competition, produces suitable flight trajectories within reasonable deliberation times. Additionally, we discovered options for improving our heuristic Autonomic Manager through a series of evaluation runs of the Sequential Model-Based Algorithm Configuration Autonomic Manager. Our contributions answer how the manageable items, that is, environments and planners, of our Smart Autoflight Control System core component have to be modified in order to embed System-Wide Information Management data that feature both spatial and temporal aspects. We show how operational cost and risk policies help to assess environments differently and plan suitable flight trajectories accordingly. We identify and implement the necessary extensions and capabilities that have to be supported by manageable and managing items, respectively, to enable continuous feature extraction, adaptive tuning, performance competitions, and planner selection in dynamic flight scenarios.



Autonomous Flight, Airborne Trajectory Optimization, Connected Aviation, System-Wide Information Management, Self-Adaptive Systems