Avionics research projects

Avionics research by the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering. These projects were externally-funded.

A) Clean Sky
Project Duration: 2008-2016
Project Size : EUR 1.6 Billion
University Workshare Value: EUR 1.0 Million
The air transport industry is addressing the growing public concern on the environmental issues of air pollution, noise and climate change. Although air transport is the cause of only 2% of man-made CO2 emissions today, this is expected to increase to 3% by 2050 with the continuous and steady growth of traffic. To address this situation, the European Commission has launched and is part-funding the Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) Clean Sky, the world’s largest initiative aimed at reducing the impact of air transport on the environment.  The programme, worth €1.6 Billion, brings major European industrial partners, research establishments and academia from the European Research Area to develop breakthrough technologies to the air transport industry and the life-cyle of the aircraft.  The Department of Electronic Systems Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering is an Associate Member in the Systems for Green Operations (SGO) Integrated Technology Demonstrator (ITD), which is one of the six ITDs that, together with the Technology Evaluator, constitute Clean Sky. 

The Department, together with international partners including Airbus, Thales Avionics, EADS-IW, NLR, DLR, Alenia Aermacchi, Delft University of Technology and Cranfield University, is contributing to one of the key areas that the SGO ITD is addressing, namely the study of optimal flight trajectories in ATM constraints for the reduction of the environmental impact (CO2, NOx and Noise emissions) of flight trajectories.  This activity is within the Mission and Trajectory Management (MTM) focus of the SGO ITD. In this respect, the Department of ESE is developing the integration framework for a multi-disciplinary multi-objective trajectory optimisation tool referred to as GATAC (Greener Aircraft Trajectories under ATM Constraints). Its purpose is to permit partners to integrate their specific models and tools in the framework and to set up optimisation problems in order to study specific case studies and identify optimal trajectories in specific scenarios. The tool is being developed in a modular fashion, with the University of Malta developing the core software that handles the optimisers and various models. The core allows legacy as well as specifically designed code written in different software languages to be integrated to run together within the environment. To facilitate the optimisation activity, a graphical method of problem setup is adopted and GATAC has a powerful Graphical User Interface (GUI) to avoid the need for the user to be expert in the field of software programming.

GATAC has been developed since October 2008 and in January 2012 achieved NASA Technology Readiness Level of 5, following approval by a board of industrial partners, including Airbus, Thales, NLR and EADS-IW.

Further developments during 2012 have lead to new releases, in which GATAC received an updated GUI to improve the process of setting up an optimisation case. Currently the research team is in the process of analysing and addressing user feedback to further improve GATAC in the form of a Version 3 at the end of 2013.

B) Clean Flight
Project Duration: 2011-2013
Project Size : EUR 160K
University Workshare Value: EUR 110k (TBC)
Clean Flight is a research project funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) under the 2011 National R&I programme (Contract R&I-2011-025) aimed at reducing the impact of air transport on the environment within the Maltese airspace and its environs.  The Clean Flight Consoritum is composed of the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering of the University of Malta and QuAero Co. Ltd, an aerospace consultancy company focusing on aircraft operations. The project has two main pillars of activity, namely the development of recommendations for new procedures and paths to support greener trajectories and the development of an advanced tool to identify optimal flight profiles of commercial aircraft flying in and out of Malta.  Current state of the art and procedures are based on flying on a cost-index pre-programmed in the flight management system, which is not necessarily the most advantageous strategy from a tactical point of view.  Besides, the intended profile is often disrupted by ATC constraints.

The Clean Flight project addresses these limitations.  Besides the recommendations being proposed and the technologies that are being developed the project will also include an analysis to identify the expected gains on individual flights and the overall effect the proposed changes can bring to the whole traffic operation in Maltese airspace. To this effect, the flights in and out of Malta are currently being tracked and their flight profiles logged.  These logs will be used as a baseline in order to quantify the benefits optimal trajectories can be expected to bring about. The reduction in fuel burn and associated levels of CO2, as well as the overall reduction in track miles and flying time will be quantified in this respect. 
Funding Body: SESAR
Project Duration: 2013-2015
Project Size : EUR 900K
University Workshare Value: EUR 90K
Principal Investigator: Prof. Ing. David Zammit Mangion 
RAID is one of nine projects funded by SESAR to demonstrate the integration of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) in unsegregated (civil) airspace.  RAID will focus on the demonstration of ATM procedures, command and control data link technology and sense and avoid technology.  This will be carried out through simulation and flight test in Maltese airspace.  The University of Malta is involved in flight test design, evaluation and assessment as well as contributing to the logistics of the flight test campaign.   

Project Duration: 2005-2009
Project Size : EUR 50 Million
University Workshare Value: EUR 0.6 Million
FLYSAFE was an integrated project part funded under the EC 6th Framework Programme for the development of the Next Generation Integrated Surveillance System (NG-ISS).  Within that framework, the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering was tasked with the development and evaluation of a novel runway collision avoidance system. This work focused on the cockpit environment and presented an effective alerting method that uniquely tells the pilots what action to take to avoid a collision when a runway traffic conflict occurs.  This approach ensures a fast, reliable and repeatable response by pilots, thereby significantly increasing the chances of the successful mitigation of the conflict. Specifically, the system tells the pilot whether to stop or to continue, depending on which manoeuvre is computed to be the safer option. The concept was first tested at the University of Malta on a mock-up simulator to ensure the functionality operated according to the initial specification set out. It was then installed on an aircraft simulator at Darmstadt University, Germany, where it underwent testing by various engineers and field experts, under a number of different flight scenarios. The system was underwent a further level of testing on flight simulators at Cranfield University, United Kingdom where line pilots from AirMalta and EasyJet assessed its performance and value in the cockpit. The Dutch aerospace research laboratory NLR carried out more human factor tests, in which pilots where exposed to various novel safety systems for traffic, weather and terrain hazard avoidance. The work has resulted in several academic publications and the award of the first international patent for the University of Malta, a Silver Malta Innovation Award in the Science Category (2011) and the RTCA 2012 William Jackson Award for the best PhD in the field of electronics and telecommunications for aviation.  
Project Duration: 2009-2014
Project Size : EUR TBC
University Workshare Value: EUR 350K
ALICIA is a research project partially funded by European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. ALICIA aims at developing new and scalable cockpit applications that can extend operations of aircraft in degraded conditions; i.e. in all conditions operations.

The project addresses the ACARE objective of increasing time efficiency within the future air transport system and particularly focuses on reducing disruptions due to bad weather. A key objective is to deliver extensible applications that can be applied to many aircraft types. This entails a new cockpit infrastructure capable of delivering enhanced situation awareness to the crew whilst simultaneously reducing crew workload and improving overall aircraft safety.

The main scope of the research conducted by the University of Malta within the ALICIA project is to address the challenge of increasing the crew’s situational awareness during aircraft taxiing, which, in bad weather, low visibility and airport unfamiliarity conditions can easily result in pilot error.
The main requirement is to provide the fixed wing aircraft crew with an on-board system that improves the safety levels in airport navigation by providing enhanced surveillance and guidance facilitates in order to improve the crew’s confidence in correctly manoeuvring and navigating the aircraft on the airfield. 

The research carried out proposes two systems on two levels. The first system called Enhanced Vision Taxi Guidance System is an on-board pilot in-the-loop system that provides to the crew visual guidance based on sensor and synthetic vision along with additional information like ATC communication, navigational sensors and databases.

The Enhanced Vision Taxi Guidance System takes a holistic approach by combining both sensor and synthetic vision with the final aim of enhancing the crew’s confidence in their intended manoeuvre.

The figure below presents the concept idea of an integrated Enhanced Vision Taxi Guidance System. The core parts of the proposed system consist of the Sensor Vision block and the Synthetic Vision block, the latter including the 3-D Synthetic Airport Model, Airport Moving Map and the Airport Database. These two systems constitute two subsystems with their corresponding outputs providing visual feedback to the aircraft crew. The Sensor Vision block includes the imaging sensors and image data pre-processing. The chosen imagery sensors are Normal Vision camera and Infrared camera. The 3-D Synthetic Airport Model is a 3-D detailed synthetic environment of the airport and is based upon an up-to-date airport database furthermore including detailed 3-D representations of aerodrome buildings (such as hangars, terminal buildings, control tower building), and any other fixed obstacles (such as lighting poles, access gates), detailed taxiway/runway features and layouts etc.

Enhanced Vision Taxi Guidance System Outputs
The second system, called Automatic Taxi of Fixed Wing Aircraft, is an on-board pilot out of-the-loop system were the aircraft is guided through pre-defined, pre-assigned taxiways without pilot intervention in all weather conditions.    

Numerous studies show that aircraft taxiing is the second most cause of accidents when considering all flight phases. Bad weather and unfamiliarity with airports where found to be the two most causes of taxi accidents. Steering bodies therefore advise that new systems should promote automation to assist in surface operations, using less Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) communication, with the ability to operate in all weather conditions.

The proposed onboard system will guide the aircraft through predefined, pre-assigned taxiways in all weather conditions. This automatic taxiing system is composed of a three feedback control loop system with a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) and digital compass as system inputs. The aircraft is then controlled during automatic taxiing via undercarriage nose wheel steering and differential thrust and braking.

Preliminary results show that automatic taxiing can be achieved with a cross track error less than 1m using a relatively simple aircraft mathematical model for all the considered paths namely straight lines, S-curves and real life taxi paths at Malta International Airport (LMML) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The tests were performed on Flight Gear Simulation platform. A snapshot of an Airbus 320 automatically taxiing in Malta is shown below.

Project Duration: 2013-2016
Project Size : EUR TBC
University Workshare Value: 
The ACROSS project is an integrated project, partially funded by the EC Framework 7 and is primarily targeted at the development, integration and test of novel cockpit solutions that facilitate the management of peak crew workload situations that can occur during a flight, with the purpose of improving safety and therefore reducing accidents. The Department of Electronic Systems Engineering is a partner in this project and will be involved as a technology developer on the topic of reduced crew workload during take-off and landing of aircraft. The project, which was kicked-off in the beginning of January 2013, is composed of 35 partners and is led by Thales Avionics of Toulouse.
Project Duration: 2008-2012
Project Size : EUR TBC
University Workshare Value: EUR 350K
ODICIS was a research project part funded by the EC 7th Framework Programme aimed at developing interactive technologies for a single cockpit display concept and building a functioning mock-up to demonstrate the proof of concept.  The work involved integrating new projection technologies to develop a single, seamless, end-to-end, multiple projection display and non-contact touch-sensitive technologies to enable touch inputs on the screen.  A concept of use was proposed in order to demonstrate the value of such a capability in the cockpit and typical functionalities were developed to provide means of practical assessment and demonstration. Besides the mock-up, the concept was evaluated on different simulators at Alenia Aeronautica in Turin and Thales Avionics at Bordeaux.
The Consortium was made up of 9 partners, namely Thales Avionics (Lead Partner), Alenia Aeronautica, Diehl Aerospace, IMEC, Optinvnent, TEIP, DTU, University of Malta and Alitalia.

Within the consortium, the University of Malta was tasked with participating in the requirements capture, developing algorithms for display generation and to developing the concept of use for exploiting a single end-to-end touch screen in the cockpit.

The Consortium built what is probably the first ever single, end-to-end interactive cockpit display that functioned with typical cockpit functionalities normally associated with the Primary Flight Display, Navigaiton Display and Engines/Systems and crew alerting displays.  The mock-up, which was demonsrated at the 2011 Paris Airshow at Le Bourget and the 2012 Farnborough International AIrshow, attracted strong interest and was a major hit with industrial visitors and major dignitaries alike.

Project Duration: 2013-2014
Project Size : EUR 160K
University Workshare Value: EUR 110K
Touch Flight is a two-year project part funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology under the 2012 National R&I programme (Contract number R&I_2012-065) and is aimed at developing new techniques of how pilots of commercial aircraft can interact with the aircraft flight and navigation systems.  With current state-of-the-art technologies, pilots input data and program the flight management and guidance systems through a keyboard and a set of buttons, whilst they set speed, altitude and aircraft heading  via knobs.  With the advent of robust touch-screen technologies in aircraft, more convenient and flexible methods of programming and interacting with the aircraft systems can be developed.  This is evidenced by examples in the consumer industry such as car satellite navigation systems and the tablet.  

Touch Flight will focus on developing new and innovative techniques of displaying  mission management and flight navigation information and accompanying methods of interacting with the aircraft systems using touch-screen technologies.  The work will build on the ODICIS single cockpit display concept, which was developed jointly by Thales Avionics, Alenia Aeronautica, Diehl Aerospace, Optinvent, IMEC, Alitalia, DTU, TEIP and the University of Malta and part funded by Framework Programme 7 of the European Commission.  This concept affords a step improvement in display and interaction capability over current state-of-the-art (such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787) and represents the future in cockpit displays.     
However, major challenges exist, as applications of touch-technologies in the cockpit need to be carefully designed to cater for the stringent safety requirements and harsh operational conditions that will also require the pilot to still be able to input data correctly on the touch screen in turbulence and in stressful and emergency conditions.

The partners in the project are the University of Malta and Quaero Ltd. QuAero Ltd. is an SME focussing on research, innovation and consultancy in the aerospace sector. It consists of a core of specialists who are senior operational line pilots and engineering and science graduates.  One of their expert areas is the design and evaluation of cockpit operations, including human machine interface and interaction (HMI2).

The Touch Flight project will be implemented using industry-standard methodologies in close collaboration with the international industry with the aim to transfer Maltese technology to key international stake-holders for eventual introduction in the cockpit.