CSULB receives grant from NASA

NASA awarded Cal State Long Beach a four-year, $3 million grant to develop a consortium of universities and private companies that will use simulations to test concepts for increasing air traffic without building new airports.

The funded project is titled “Metrics for Operator Situation Awareness, Workload, and Performance in Automated Separation Assurance Systems” and will test strategies proposed as part of the 2025 Next Generation Air Traffic System (NGATS). The consortium, which includes San Jose State University, Cal State Northridge, Purdue University, CSULB and Boeing, will be testing several air traffic control concepts that aim to help air traffic controllers do their jobs more efficiently.

Kim Vu, an assistant professor in the psychology department and co-principal investigator for the project, along with psychology professor Thomas Strybel, said the project sets up scenarios using new air traffic control concepts that could be implemented in the future. The consortium will measure how well controllers can maintain awareness while working with the proposed technology changes by running simulations and administering psychological testing.

Vu said that all air traffic is currently managed by air traffic controllers and is limited by how much activity the controllers can handle.

“They can only do so much,” Vu said.

According to a press release, Strybel said they want to measure whether the workload for controllers would be manageable with the new technology.

“Workload is always an issue for air traffic controllers and pilots because of the demands made on them,” Strybel said. “Situation awareness is being aware of the information in your environment, understanding it, making good predictions on the basis of that information and being able to anticipate future events. Pilots call this ‘being ahead of the aircraft’ and air traffic controllers call it ‘having the picture.'”

People working at CSULB’s Center for the Study of Advanced Aeronautic Technologies will test the scenarios on 24 high-end workstations donated by The Boeing Company and using approximately $17 million of software that NASA donated. Vu said the software the lab uses was also developed and used by NASA. Vu said the lab at CSULB has been working with NASA for a couple of years and received the grant in October 2006.

Strybel said the NGATS vision is to allow for three times the current amount of air traffic.

“With this grant, we are interested in evaluating the impact of new automation concepts and technologies on pilots and air traffic controllers. The goal of NGATS is to increase air traffic capacity (more airplanes in the sky) without building more airports,” Strybel said. “The [Federal Aviation Administration] forecasts that the demand for flying will increase significantly over the next two decades, and it hopes to increase airspace capacity and put more airplanes in the sky by getting them closer together without sacrificing safety.”

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