Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mathematics penetrates mystery of air traffic safety

21.06.2005


Air traffic control is one of the most demanding safety critical distributed systems with an enviable safety record. Using computer modelling researchers developed innovative approaches to handling uncertainty when designing such complex safety critical operations.



It’s a scary thought, but air traffic brings with it the chance of a mid-air collision. But the safety record of the air industry is excellent, so obviously it works well. "The system has grown in an evolutionary way over decades," says Dr Henk Blom of The Netherlands Aerospace Laboratory in Amsterdam, and coordinator of the IST programme-funded Hybridge project. "It works, but nobody really understand why it works so [well]. If you talk to an air traffic controller, he or she can tell you how it works from one perspective, and also about some scary events where things ran out of control."

"Similarly, [other] explanations and experiences can be heard when you talk to a pilot. In combination, their two stories explain how well pilots and controllers collaborate, but it does not explain at all why the safety records are so extremely good. The most likely explanation why it has become so safe is that the air traffic system evolved in small steps over time and each step took advantage of past experience.”


There is one big problem, though: “How can you update or automate a system in which the safety records cannot be explained or captured by your design tools?” asks Blom.

That’s the question that Hybridge sought to address.

Design-safety tools

The project developed three novel methods and supporting tools to design safety within a distributed system, but in a way that allows pilots and controllers to retain control, since they bear the responsibility in preventing any accidents from occurring.

One novel method allows the designer to analyse and mitigate combinations of small problems at different places in a distributed safety critical system. "In air traffic you have controllers, pilots, planes and mechanical and computer systems. It’s complex and highly distributed. And this may result in ’Chinese whisper’ kind of effects, which may lead to unnoticed differences in understanding between, for example, a pilot and an air traffic controller.

"When such a difference in understanding remains unrecognised, then the situation may spiral out of control, with potentially catastrophic results,” says Blom. “Some of these misunderstandings can be quite sneaky; you can’t anticipate them, they simply arise from unfortunate combinations of innocent events." The tools developed by Blom and the Hybridge team seek to identify, and prevent, these potential misunderstandings.

The two other key outcomes are simulation-based approaches. One assesses the risk of collision in a novel air traffic design. You need a massive sample of data to accurately test whether the new design is safe, because collisions occur so rarely in air traffic control.

"Through straightforward simulation it would take a person’s life-time to simulate a statistically significant number of collisions for one design," says Blom. "With the novel method you can do it overnight."

That’s the power that mathematical modelling can bring to systems’ design. What’s more, the team developed their simulation to work independently of the system architecture. It’s a major advance, because adjusting a simulator for different systems is costly in both time and money.

The third outcome of the project was a simulation-based method, which helps to optimise automation processes in air traffic control, while taking into account the uncertainties that, for example, come from sudden wind speed variations.

Airports would like to automate certain aspects of traffic control, but automation on its own does not take account of unpredictable variables, like wind speed and direction in the Jet stream. "Planes can arrive hours before they are expected if the weather conditions are right," says Blom.

The Hybridge system can factor in such variables to ensure automation runs smoothly and does not get overwhelmed, for example, by the unexpected arrival of several planes ahead of time.

The project finished last December, but work will continue among the partners. Hybridge was simply a proof of principle. Now the partners are looking to develop a full-scale application for advanced air traffic system design.

The project results could also be useful in a wide range of industries, from finance to nuclear power station management, industry, computing and telecommunications management.

"We chose air traffic because it was the most demanding safety critical distributed system we could find, so it was the ultimate test of the methods we developed. We expect it is possible to apply these novel methods to other industries as well," concludes Blom.

Tara Morris | alfa
Further information:
http://istresults.cordis.lu/

More articles from Transportation and Logistics:

nachricht Variable speed limits could reduce crashes, ease congestion in highway work zones
07.06.2017 | University of Missouri-Columbia

nachricht Experiments show that a few self-driving cars can dramatically improve traffic flow
10.05.2017 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

All articles from Transportation and Logistics >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>