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Here are the new urban air mobility technologies being funded by NASA

NASA is awarding $51 million to U.S. small businesses to pursue innovative technology development — including in areas related to urban air mobility (UAM).

NASA urban air mobility vision
NASA’s longstanding interest in urban air mobility is reflected in its 2020 Phase I SBIR and STTR contract awards. NASA Image

NASA recently selected 409 technology proposals to receive Phase I funding through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Phase I SBIR contracts last for six months and are awarded to only a small business, while Phase I STTR contracts last for 13 months and are made to a small business in partnership with  nonprofit research institution.

Awarded in amounts of up to $125,000, Phase I contracts are a “first step in helping these small businesses bring their technologies and ideas to market,” according to NASA SBIR/STTR program executive Jenn Gustetic. Successful companies may proceed to $750,000 Phase II contracts that support prototyping, followed by other post-Phase II opportunities.

A number of the technology proposals in NASA’s latest Phase I funding round relate specifically to UAM, an emerging market in which NASA is playing a leading role through its Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. Here are some of the highlights.

Vehicle and traffic management

Architecture Technology Corporation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, will receive a Phase I SBIR contract award from NASA for a “Vertiport Traffic Automation System,” which would provide automated, real-time air traffic and information services at UAM vertiports. The company said its “flexible service-based architecture adapts to vertiports with different configurations and traffic patterns; integrates with other UAM service suppliers; and provides an open platform for the automation to evolve as UAM operations increase.”

Global Technology Connection of Atlanta, Georgia, will receive an SBIR contract for “TRACAIR: TRAjectory Course Anomaly Identifier.” Assuming that future UAM aircraft will be required to follow time-constrained (4-D) trajectories with a high degree of precision, TRACAIR would detect trajectory anomalies in real time in order to identify and resolve safety-critical risks including flight outside of approved airspace; unsafe proximity to people or property; loss of command, control, or power; loss of or degraded GPS; and engine failure, the company said.

The Innovation Laboratory of Portland, Oregon, will receive an SBIR contract to develop urban airspace mapping capabilities for designing safe UAM operations. Leveraging an existing mature urban planning software system, the company plans to build new visualization “layers” to show how various airspace operations constraints, traffic volumes, or design structures will impact UAM operations in a selected airspace and its interfacing ground-space.

Noise

ATAC of Santa Clara, California, will receive a Phase I SBIR contract for its “Quiet UAM Impact Path Planning (QUIPP) Tool,” which will generate eVTOL flight paths that minimize noise impacts on people within the UAM on-demand environment. Comprising dynamic input datasets and flight path optimization that rely on current noise contours from a noise model, QUIPP synthesizes noise-sensitive 4-D trajectories by applying an adaptation of Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm to find the lowest-cost route.

Continuum Dynamics of Ewing, New Jersey will receive an SBIR contract for its comprehensive acoustic analysis for UAM vehicles. The proposed effort will enhance state-of-the-art rotary-wing aeromechanics and acoustics analysis with key additional modeling capabilities needed for comprehensive prediction of distributed electric propulsion (DEP) aircraft noise, focusing initially on the special problems associated with the prediction of noise from multiple, time-varying RPM systems.

Research in Flight of Auburn, Alabama, and Auburn University will receive an STTR contract for early-design aeroacoustics prediction for DEP vehicles using the flow solver FlightStream. The partners intend to develop an “Aeroacoustics Toolbox” that will enable aircraft manufacturers to shorten design cycles and support acoustics-related certification processes.

Weather

ATAC, which will receive an SBIR contract for its QUIPP tool, will also receive one for its “Low Altitude Wind Hazard Alerting and Rerouting (LAWHAR)” service for UAM operations. LAWHAR would predict wind hazard regions in urban airspace at the micro scale, and reroute UAM vehicles as needed using an algorithm which considers variability in vehicle performance. With its Phase I award, ATAC intends to provide a proof-of-concept demonstration for a scenario in downtown Dallas, Texas.

CU Aerospace of Champaign, Illionois, will receive an SBIR contract for icing hazard mitigation for UAM flight safety. Along with its partner, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the company aims to develop an all-weather hazard mitigation system toolset that can be applied for risk assessments based on vehicle performance envelopes, decision-making in UAM airspace, and in-situ advisories related to flight safety.

Blue Storm Associates of Fairfax Station, Virginia, will receive an SBIR contract for its Icing, Wind and Lightning (IWaL) system, a multi-sensor suite that will provide operators of UAM vehicles with advanced warnings of anticipated icing-related performance degradations, along with identification of wind and lightning hazards. This will facilitate proactive decision making and in-flight maneuvers to avoid these hazards, the company said.

Innovative Dynamics of Ithaca, New York, will receive an SBIR contract for a low power rechargeable anti-icing system for UAM vehicles. Targeted to short-range, short-endurance UAM missions, the system will feature a fast response icing sensor combined with a unique rechargeable rotor-blade anti-icing system utilizing smart materials and embedded energy storage components that can be pre-charged independently of the UAM main battery pack.

Ride quality

Crown Consulting of Arlington, Virginia, will receive an SBIR contract to explore the effects of ride quality on UAM passenger acceptance. The company proposes to develop metrics and models that identify how passenger perceptions are affected by vehicle motion, noise, and vibration; and develop a Phase II simulation and analysis plan to measure the effects of vehicle motion on ride quality.

Cornerstone Research Group of Miamisburg, Ohio, will likewise receive an SBIR contract to study urban air mobility passenger ride quality. Cornerstone plans to evaluate several technologies for improving the passenger experience in urban air mobility operations, with a focus on perceived safety, vehicle motion noise and vibration, availability and access, passenger well-being, and environmental impact.

Flight testing

Systems Technology of Hawthorne, California, will receive two SBIR contracts from NASA. The first is for the development of a “UAM Pilot Assessment Software System (U-PASS)” toolbox that will use a task-pilot-vehicle approach to assess safety in terms of handling qualities and comfort in terms of ride qualities, supporting the design, analysis, and certification of UAM vehicles.

The second is for a portable flight test display for UAM means-of-compliance testing. This novel tablet-based cockpit display and sensor system will provide a UAM vehicle’s test pilot evaluator with virtual mission task element (MTE) courses against which to evaluate the aircraft, providing a means to easily and repeatedly perform MTE evaluations.

The full list of NASA’s SBIR 2020 Phase I selections can be viewed here, while the full list of its STTR 2020 Phase I selections can be found here.

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