Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are envisioned to operate much closer to each other in low-altitude airspace than in the conventional high-altitude air traffic system and therefore impose challenges not only to the vehicle design but also to the development of a safe yet efficient low-altitude air traffic system. NASA Ames developed an air traffic simulation tool known as Flexible engine for Fast time evaluation of Flight environments (Fe3).
The simulation tool provides the capability of statistically analyzing high-density, high-fidelity, and low-altitude traffic systems without conducting infeasible and cost-prohibitive flight tests that involve a large volume of aerial vehicles. Fe3 includes comprehensive models for high-volume traffic operations such as six-degrees-of-freedom unmanned vehicle dynamics and control models, navigation communication and sensor models, wind models, and conflict resolution models using cloud computing and Graphic Process Unit (GPU) technologies to achieve a high level of computational performance.
With such performance, Fe3 can perform thousands of Monte Carlo simulations for high-volume aircraft operations in minutes so that researchers can readily conduct uncertainty studies and obtain statistical results. This simulation tool also provides a flexible input structure, allowing researchers to study a wide range of parameters in large-scale aerial operations.
Fe3’s core simulation engine is composed of two main functions: trajectory generation and collision avoidance. Fe3 is highly parallelized using the Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) programming language on GPUs. It is deployed on the Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud for scalability needs such that the number of GPU instances can be dynamically deployed based on simulation needs. The technology can perform uncertainty analysis on large volumes of aircraft operations within minutes, all neatly wrapped in a Web-based application.
With this capability, stakeholders can study the impacts of critical components (such as wind, surveillance, communication, collision, avoidance, traffic rules, energy consumption, etc.) in the low-altitude, high-density traffic system; gain insights and help define requirements, policies, and protocols for a safe and efficient traffic system; and assess operational risks and optimize flight schedules.