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UNT, NASA, local partners push the future of air travel forward

UNT, NASA, local partners push the future of air travel forward

UNT, NASA, local partners push the future of air travel forward
November 29
09:00 2022

On Oct. 11, the university worked with NASA on a successful live flight test of upcoming Advanced Air Mobility technologies from the university’s Discovery Park campus to Hillwood’s Alliance Texas Flight Test Center.

The autonomous electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft is a step forward in airborne transportation and could help safely deliver locally sourced farm food or families to a local airport.

“This would be able to carry people without a pilot,” electrical engineering professor Kamesh Namuduri said. “Think of [an] air-taxi or air-ambulance. The flight can take off and land and fly on its own without a pilot. But for now, we took the first step.”

The university will continue working with NASA over the next five years to further this project and ensure it is a safe way to transport people.

“What we want to do is make sure that all of these operations are connected so that the flight operations can be conducted safely,” Namuduri said. “[We] want to make sure there are no accidents.”

The university has been working on this project since 2018 and its research led to this development as a solution for quickly transporting cargo and people in an unmanned vessel.

“Going forward it would be maybe five years, maybe seven years,” Namuduri said. “Some people are saying 2030 is the time we will see a lot of airplanes that are going to be flying autonomously with people.”

A total of 15 partners, called the North Texas Cohort research team, were involved in the test, including startup companies from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Bell Textron, a leading aircraft company, supplied a surrogate eVTOL for the demonstration. The Bell 407GXi helicopter completed a NASA-derived high-demand route while the company monitored the vessel from one of its helicopters and provided real-time data to PSU, a traffic management system.

Avianco, a North Texas-based business, developed software called Skynet PSU, which provides airspace awareness and real-time tracking of air vessel mobility operations.

“This is the beginning of the future of what air mobility operations will look like,” Avianco CEO Shravan Vatambeti said. “The DFW metroplex is going to be one potential area where we will likely be seeing this AAM.”

Unmanned Experts Inc. CEO, Keven Gambold, played a major role in this live flight testing. Gambold said the company has worked with the university on a number of programs related to this flight testing.

“Imagine Uber Air or Uber Air-Eats,” Gambold said “You’re out jogging and need a bottle of water. ‘Click.’ A drone drops it in your lap five minutes later. Or you’re late for the airport, [and] the traffic looks bad. You click on Uber, and it asks if you want to go by air. It’s like $40 more, but you’re going to get there in five minutes.”

This is only the beginning of the future of air travel. This kind of technology could become much more common in the coming years.

“Have you ever watched Star Wars?” Gambold said. “Those scenes where they’re on Coruscant, the capital city, where there are streams and streams of aircraft, nose to tail. That’s the end goal. That’s the dream.”

Image Courtesy of the University of North Texas

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Sidney Pearce

Sidney Pearce

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