N.C. A&T-led Research Team Awarded $8M NASA Grant to Develop Air Passenger Taxis

By Jamie Crockett / 04/14/2020 College of Engineering

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (April 14, 2020) – An interdisciplinary team led by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has received a four-year, $8 million award from NASA to address traffic congestion by developing, testing and eventually deploying air passenger taxis as a supplemental means of transportation. 

North Carolina A&T is the first historically black college or university (HBCU) to lead a project for the agency’s University Leadership Initiative (ULI). The grant is also the second-largest award the university has received in its history. 

“We won’t have the luxury of physical space to build more roads as the populations in urban areas continue to grow,” said Abdollah Homaifar, Ph.D., principal investigator and a NASA Langley Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering (COE). “I am excited for this collaboration as we are addressing real challenges in our society that require solutions that one group cannot provide alone.” 

“The project leverages interdisciplinary expertise to engineer new capabilities in unmanned Advanced Air Mobility,” COE Dean Robin N. Coger, Ph.D., said. “This project is a wonderful example of the scale of innovation possible when research universities, industry, and NASA partner together.”

In a blue paper released last year, Morgan Stanley Research estimated the overall autonomous aircraft market could expand to $1.5 trillion globally by 2040.

N.C. A&T researchers will collaborate with researchers at Purdue University and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), as a well as industry leaders Aurora Flight Sciences, Alaka’i Technologies Corp., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The collaboration will address the following technical challenges (TCs) in Advanced Air Mobility:

  • TC1: Safe Perception, Coordination, Planning, and Navigation Led by Ali Karimoddini, Ph.D. (N.C. A&T), and Kyriakos Vamvoudakis, Ph.D. (Georgia Tech), will develop flexible and adaptive coordination and control algorithms for Urban Air Mobility (UAM).
  • TC2: Secured Autonomy Led by Inseok Hwang, Ph.D., and Dengfeng Sun, Ph.D. (Purdue University), will develop secure algorithms for future UAM. Cyber-physical characteristics will address both conventional data security and physical security.
  • TC3: Verification and Validation and Testing and Evaluation Led by Abdollah Homaifar, Ph.D. (N.C. A&T), and Sam Coogan, Ph.D. (Georgia Tech), will develop verification and validation procedures to provide provable guarantees of correctness of the UAM software and support certification of the developed technologies through testing and evaluation. 
  • TC4: System Integration Led by Dan DeLaurentis, Ph.D. (Purdue University), and Mark Costello, Ph.D. (Georgia Tech), will integrate TC 1-3 products through dependency analytics, integrated simulation, and experimental flight tests through fast-learning cycles.

N.C. A&T will offer hands-on research for both undergraduate and graduate students and support outreach opportunities that introduce K-12 students to engineering.

John Kelly (N.C. A&T) and James Goppert (Purdue University) will lead the education and outreach components of the project aimed to train the future STEM workforce. Other N.C. A&T researchers on the project include Yahya Kamalipour, Ph.D., M. Nabil Mahmoud, Ph.D., Ioannis A. Raptis, Ph.D., and Allison Sullivan, Ph.D.

Additional researchers include Shaoshuai Mou, Ph.D., at Purdue University, Judy Hoffman at Georgia Tech, James Paduano, Ph.D., at Aurora Flight Sciences, Bruce J. Holmes, Ph.D., at Alaka’i Technologies, Damon Jenkins at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Neta Ezer at Northrop Grumman Corp.

N.C. A&T is uniquely positioned to lead this project as Homaifar serves as the director of the Autonomous Control Information Technology (ACIT) Institute and director of the TECHLAV DoD Center of Excellence in Autonomy. 

NASA requested proposals driven by universities addressing at least one of the agency’s six strategic thrusts. The initiative focuses on developing the next generation of researchers and engineers and emphasizes the inclusion of HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. 

To learn more about the ULI program, visit NASA’s website.

Contributing editor: Alexander Saunders, College of Engineering director of communications

Media Contact Information: jicrockett@ncat.edu

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