NASA Spinoff

Scheduling Software for Complex Scenarios

Product Outcome

Although there are a number of commercially available scheduling systems, none, according to Stottler Henke, offers all of the features and advantages of Aurora. Furthermore, the degree of domain knowledge required for decisions and the unusual sets of unnatural constraints set by the traditional scheduling software makes them of limited use for truly complex scenarios. The level of complexity the Aurora software was designed to handle, however, is quite useful in a variety of industries. It is practical for solving planning problems for which human expertise can be encoded and applied to generate near-optimal scheduling solutions automatically. It reduces, then, reliance on domain experts, and it changes the scheduling process from a painstaking exercise that takes days and weeks to one that can be accomplished in hours.

It is currently being incorporated into two major systems. One is for the United Space Alliance, LLC, to provide space crews with onboard scheduling capability for the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The second is for a major aircraft manufacturer to help schedule assembly operations of its next-generation airliner.

With Aurora, users can define attributes for individual tasks, groups of tasks, resources, resource sets, and constraints. These attributes can be considered by user-supplied or built-in scheduling decision rules that are invoked at key scheduling decision points within single- or multipass algorithms, such as determining which task to schedule next, selecting the overall best time window and resources, or handling the situation where not all of the required resources are available at the required time. Additional attributes of each resource can be considered when making intelligent resource selection decisions in order to generate schedules that are as close to optimal as possible.

Aurora’s graphical user interface enables users to enter domain-specific knowledge and specify their scheduling requirements quickly and easily. Interactive displays enable users to visualize and edit the schedule’s resource allocations and the temporal relationships among activities. Scheduling problems, such as unresolved conflicts, are highlighted to attract the user’s attention.

Aurora allows users to export reports about resource use, which can then be opened in a standard spreadsheet program. It can also export any of its schedule displays as an image the size of the schedule display itself, allowing the user to include the schedule in presentations or otherwise distribute it. The software can also print any of its schedule displays.

One of the biggest advantages of the Aurora software, though, is that it is cost-efficient. It used to be that, in order for a company to develop a customized scheduling system, the company would have to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Aurora can be customized for far less. It eliminates the need for costly, time-consuming experts and can produce accurate, dependable results.