Occasionally an aircraft accident captures our attention in a good way. The “Miracle on the Hudson” elevated a capable pilot to hero status and reminded us that life-threatening situations can indeed have a happy ending. It was no accident that the movie “Sully” was recently released near the 15th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks “right next door” to the Hudson River. The popular press has focused on the calm and clear thinking of the US Airways crew. This presentation will focus on the complementary “technology story”: the existing Airbus technology that was instrumental in saving lives that day as well as the autonomy technology that could have prevented the need to land on a river altogether. Challenges in increasingly autonomous Aerospace systems research, development, and deployment will be discussed, along with important social and legal questions we face as our air and ground vehicles begin to override our actions to protect us.
Ella Atkins is a Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, where she is director of the Autonomous Aerospace Systems (A2SYS) Lab. Atkins holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. She previously served on the Aerospace Engineering faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park. Atkins is past-chair of the AIAA Intelligent Systems Technical Committee, AIAA Associate Fellow, IEEE senior member, small public airport owner/operator (Shamrock Field, Brooklyn, MI) and private pilot. She served on the National Academy’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) (2011-2015 term), was a member of the Institute for Defense Analysis Defense Science Studies (DSSG) Group (2012-2013), and recently served on an NRC committee to develop an autonomy research agenda for civil aviation (2013-2014).