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  • Writer's pictureStephen Crouch

Introducing FlightStack: Perception for Aviation Safety

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

In our last post [1], we highlighted a challenging trend in aviation safety and the potential for on-aircraft perception technology to reduce safety gaps. Despite the near ubiquitous use of GPS and ADS-B technology in aviation, neither is considered foolproof. GPS outages are a real and growing concern [2]. ADS-B uses an insecure protocol that does not inherently protect against bad actors and is not yet universally required in the national airspace. Acknowledging these gaps has motivated the aviation community to begin considering orthogonal situational awareness technologies [3].

Within this context, VTI has developed FlightStack- an onboard suite of sensor-based perception technology to add situational awareness independent of existing technologies, such as GPS and ADS-B. Just as multiple technologies work together today, FlightStack augments instead of replaces present technology. Additionally, FlightStack is designed for near term deployment on piloted aircraft. While many in aviation espouse a “straight to autonomy” strategy, VTI believes that new technology can add low criticality (DAL-D) but valuable situational awareness to the cockpit today. Nearer term deployment then offers opportunities to scale and increasingly trust perception technology in the context of additional avionics subsystem sophistication.

VTI’s roadmap recognizes the underlying overlaps between general aviation, business, commercial/cargo, defense, emerging air mobility services and non-standard applications such as aerial firefighting. FlightStack's first component will focus on the approach to land phase of flight using imaging sensors. We’ve chosen this domain for several reasons:

  1. Approach to land is common to all fixed-wing aviation and has the highest accident rate of any phase of flight [4].

  2. Cameras are widely available and in many cases, such as Enhanced Vision Systems, imaging systems are installed on existing aircraft [5].

  3. According to the FAA, “Mid-air collisions generally occur during daylight hours…under good visibility” [6]. Therefore, visual perception provides the best value for money across the distribution of meteorological conditions.

  4. Imaging systems offer a tireless and “superhuman” backup to the wide variety of critical visual tasks performed by pilots.

FlightStack combines aviation-specific imaging sensors with sophisticated image processing to provide additional situational awareness to pilots on final approach. Mimicking functions performed by pilots, FlightStack detects runways, provides a GPS-independent estimate of position relative to the runway, identifies relevant traffic, and visually alerts pilots to potential runway incursions of aircraft on the airfield. While a pilot's attention may be split across numerous tasks during this phase of flight, FlightStack runs continuously.

FlightStack is engineered using an industry-leading combination of synthetic data sources, cloud-hosted database and machine learning infrastructure, continuous integration/continuous deployment techniques for rigorous automated test, flight testing, and software deployment. VTI employs an interactive hardware-in-the-loop approach to test embedded system and gather hands-on pilot feedback.

By enhancing situational awareness, pilots can increase the safety of their flight, expand their ability to make fuel-saving visual approaches, and improve their confidence in accepting a visual approach clearance from air traffic control.

VTI is working with aerospace partners to tune FlightStack to specific aviation use-cases. Future iterations of FlightStack will expand capabilities to surface operations including rollout, taxi, and takeoff. Keep an eye out for partnership announcements over the next quarter!

Download the FlightStack brochure here.



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