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NASA OKs 3 New Studies On Drones And Autonomous Vehicle Technology

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NASA has chosen three research teams to work on separate projects that will ultimately advance autonomous systems in self-driving cars, unmanned aircraft, and drones, the space agency touted on June 5.

Each team pitched their idea on the development and use of aircraft-based autonomous technologies, and will now begin feasibility studies to see if their concept holds true.

"Our idea is to invest a very modest amount of time and money into new technologies that are ambitious and potentially transformative," said Richard Barhydt, who runs the agency's Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program.

"They may or may not work, but we won't know unless we try," Barhydt stated in a NASA news release.

Unmanned Aircraft With Autonomous Systems

The three new studies will be conducted as part of the Convergent Aeronautics Solutions project currently run by the agency, and will potentially help create vital parts "of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) puzzle," according to NASA officials.

Each project will focus on a different element of the puzzle and might end up rendering revolutionary technologies for the aeronautics industry, which NASA lately seems very keen on advancing.

According to the agency, the three studies could be completed in 24 to 30 months' time, and add to the other five projects previously chosen last year.

Apart from these research proposals, NASA selected an additional six studies in 2015, to be undertaken under the same Convergent Aeronautics Solutions project.

One of the three new teams will be working on producing algorithms to enable the autonomy of self-driving cars and unmanned aircraft, aiming toward the certification of autonomous systems in aviation.

NASA hopes this technology will "lay a foundation for establishing justifiable confidence in machine decisions."

Remotely-Piloted Drones That Can Talk To Each Other

The second team will be taking on the task of coming up with new methods to verify whether remotely-piloted drones are fit to fly before take-off.

Their project aims to produce a technology which assesses the aircraft before each flight, and deems it structurally and mechanically sound to operate. In case the system detects any damage, it will allow the aerial vehicle to automatically ground itself.

The third study will be researching how to use quantum computing and communication tech to create a jam-free network that can support hundreds of thousands of drones flying each day.

The project envisions developing a fully secure UAS network that can enable drones to talk to each other and with the ground.

NASA has shown great interest in developing drone technology that can be used to explore Mars. One example is the Mars Electric Reusable Flyer project, which will allow drones to navigate and recharge autonomously in the often unpredictable conditions on Mars.

Another advantage of this research project is the possibility to study highly inaccessible areas on Mars, such as the planet's deep canyons and lava tubes, which can't be covered by human explorers.

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