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An Entropy-based Low Altitude Air Traffic Safety Assessment Framework

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posted on 18.12.2021, 23:08 by Hsun ChaoHsun Chao
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a vision for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) based on safely introducing aviation services to missions that were previously not served or under-served. Many potential AAM missions lie in metropolitan areas that are beset by various types of uncertainty and potential constraints. Radio interference from other electronic devices can render unreliable communication between flying vehicles to ground operators. Buildings have irregular surfaces that degrade GPS localization performance. Skyscrapers can induce spontaneous turbulence that degrades vehicles' navigational accuracy. However, the potential market demands for aerial passenger-carrying and package delivery services have attracted investments. For example, Google WingX, Amazon Prime Air, and Joby Aviation are well-known companies developing AAM systems and services. If the market visions are realized, how will safety be assessed and maintained with high-density AAM operations?

While there are multiple technology candidates for realizing high-density AAM operations in urban environments, the means to accomplish the requisite first step of assessing the airspace safety of an integrated AAM eco-system from the candidate technologies is crucial but as yet unclear. This dissertation proposes an entropy-based framework for assessing the airspace safety level for low-altitude airspace in an AAM setting. The framework includes a conceptual model for depicting the information flows between air vehicles and an air traffic authority (ATA) and the use of a probability distribution to represent the traffic state. Subsequently, the framework embeds three airspace-level metrics for assessing airspace safety and uncertainty levels. The traffic safety severity metric quantifies the traffic safety level. The traffic entropy quantifies the uncertainty level of the traffic state distribution. Finally, the temperature is the ratio of the traffic safety severity to the traffic entropy. The temperature is similar to the traffic safety severity but gives a higher weight to the instance with a safe traffic state.

Simulation studies show that the combined use of the three metrics can evaluate relative airspace safety levels even if the unsafe conditions do not occur. The use cases include using the metrics for real-time airspace safety level monitoring and comparing the design of airspace systems and operational strategies. Additionally, this study demonstrates using a heat map to visualize vehicle-level metrics and assess designs of UAM airspace structures. The contribution of this study includes two parts. First, the temperature metric can heuristically assess a probability function. Based on the definition of the cost function, the temperature metric gives a higher weighting to the instance of the probability function with a lower cost value. This study constructs several triggers for predicting if a near-miss event would happen in the airspace. The temperature-based trigger has a better prediction accuracy than the cost-function-based trigger. Secondly, the temperature can visualize the safety level of an airspace structure with the considerations of the environmental and vehicle state measurement uncertainty. The locations with high-temperature values indicate that the regions are more likely to have endangered vehicles. Although this framework does not provide any means of resolving the unsafe conditions, it can be powerful in the comparison of different airspace design concepts and identify the weaknesses of either airspace design or operational strategies.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Daniel DeLaurentis

Additional Committee Member 2

Dengfeng Sun

Additional Committee Member 3

Jitesh H. Panchal

Additional Committee Member 4

Mario Ventresca

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