Grant Awarded for Autonomous Airfield Technology

 - February 6, 2023, 10:52 AM
Two autonomous tractors traverse the flight line on Scott Air Force Base in Illinois last year during an operational demonstration. A recent research grant to the National Aerospace Research & Technology Park aspires to bring such technology to airports across the country. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Solomon Cook/USAF)

The National Aerospace Research & Technology Park (NARTP) has received a $2.25 million Congressional grant to advance the development and testing of autonomous devices that can perform routine labor-intensive activities such as lawn mowing and foreign object debris sweeps on military and civil airfields.

NARTP—which occupies a 58-acre campus adjoining New Jersey’s Atlantic City International Airport (KACY) and the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center—will work on the Airfield Autonomy Initiative (AAI) together with the U.S. Air Force, FAA, National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Atlantic County Economic Alliance and others to create the first-ever, airfield-specific autonomous command and control (C2) systems.

While some automated technologies already exist, the AAI will focus on establishing software that can incorporate them into a comprehensive operating system to enable their use in airfield operations in a scalable and consistent manner. According to NARTP, such devices will allow more efficient and safer ground operations, as well as reduce operating costs and labor.

“Developing and successfully demonstrating vigorous C2 systems that can safely operate, track, coordinate, communicate, navigate, and deconflict multiple types of automated devices from a variety of technology providers is a critical step forward in increasing airport efficiencies and reducing costs,” said NARTP chairman, retired USAF Major General, and American Airlines captain Mark Loeben.

Demonstrations of these systems will begin this spring at KACY and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.