Boss! De Plane! is safer now

Date: Fri Aug 10 2001 - 03:05:02 MDT

Swarming planes

The sky's the limit for aircraft controlled by a shared intelligence. By
Duncan Graham-Rowe

SOFTWARE that allows planes to "swarm" could eliminate mid-air collisions
regardless of how crowded the airspace is, say its French creators. Rather
than slavishly sticking to air corridors dictated by air traffic control,
pilots would choose their own flight path after takeoff, cutting journey

"In a free flight situation, this sort of swarming software is absolutely
necessary," says developer Géraud Granger at CENA, the Center for Aerial
Navigation Studies in Toulouse. CENA's system has already been tested on a
simulator using archived data on real air traffic, and it successfully
prevented a pile-up with 35 planes sharing airspace.

FACES (Free flight Autonomous and Coordinated Embarked Solver) only advises
pilots to make manoeuvres when absolutely necessary. This "distributed
software" means that no particular plane is ever in command, so they make
their avoidance manoeuvres together.

When pilots are confronted with one potential collision, says Granger, the
challenge is to give them instructions for evasive manoeuvres without causing

To do this, each plane calculates a new heading one at a time, its software
taking into account only the planes that have already planned their new
course. This way, the first plane simply stays on its course, while the last
plane in the sequence will have to plan its new path around all the other
planes in its 35-kilometre detection zone. Once the manoeuvres have all been
planned, the planes inform their pilots of their new course and the
choreographed manoeuvres are carried out.

The advantage of CENA's distributed - or leaderless - approach is that you
don't need a human controller or additional airport infrastructure to make it
work. Granger says the software can be embedded in existing flight management

>From New Scientist, 11 August 2001

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