Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2106-08-03: NASA LaRC Hosts AIAA Intelligent Systems and Technology Conference, Day 1

Director Crisp, Dr. Simmons, and Dr. Casbeer listen as Dr. Borener answers a question.

NASA LaRC is thrilled to host the three-day AIAA ISTC Workshop this week, where we've welcomed guests from all over the world to come discuss intelligent systems and autonomy in aeronautics. The workshop was off to an auspicious start with a keynote on Unmanned Disaster Response from Dr. Robin Murphy followed by panel on "Lessons Learned from Government Agencies" featuring LaRC Director of Systems Analysis and Concepts, Vicki Crisp, and moderated by our own fearless leader, Ai head Dr.Danette Allen.

Danette announces that the panel is open for questions.

The four-member panel consisted of Director Crisp from NASA, Dr. David Casbeer from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Dr. Sherry Borener from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Dr. Reid Simmons from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of them presented on aspects of autonomy and flight from their agencies' perspectives before Danette opened the floor to questions from the audience.

Hearing the differences in approaches to autonomy between agencies was illuminating, and made for an excellent discussion. For example, Dr. Borener's comments focused on the importance of developing communication abilities for unmanned vehicles in the national airspace.

"The problem is that it has to blend into the airspace with other, manned vehicles," she said.

Dr. Borener makes a point about flight safety and autonomous aircraft in the NAS.

By contrast, Dr. Casbeer emphasized the continuing relevance of controls research even as autonomy becomes more advanced. While some in aviation view autonomy as a replacement for controls, he argues that controls must and will remain important for autonomy to succeed, especially at the inner loop, on the lowest levels of programming.

"[People] say control is dead... it's like a spoon in the heart," he joked.

Dr. Casbeer addresses the audience.

The discussion also expanded beyond the purely scientific and into the larger constructs surrounding autonomy research. Director Crisp heard a question from an audience member about the federal government's hesitance to fund what they call "duplication studies" even though replication is a key part of the scientific process, which she answered from her experience as a "self-proclaimed bureaucrat."

"That's a great question, by the way. We're having these conversations not only within our own agency, but with Congress, OMB, and others," she said. "It's them asking, 'Explain to me why this is important'... We're trying to help inform and educate."

Director Crisp offers insight into communicating NASA's goals across the federal government.

Finally, at the end of the panel, Danette asked a "lightning round question" that she had been asked herself at the DoD HFE TAG held recently at NASA LaRC: "If you were king or queen, and had all the money in the world, what problem in autonomy would you solve?"

Dr. Reid had an immediate answer: "My tall pole would be having intelligent systems understand their limitations."

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