Highways in the Sky

October 12, 2022
Aerospace engineer Jun Chen’s research makes autonomous air taxis one step closer to reality.

The article first published in the 2022 edition of Highlights: A Magazine of Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities at SDSU.

Imagine a way to avoid the clogged interstate during that weekend trip from San Diego to Los Angeles. In the not-sodistant future, automated air taxis could make the three hour drive — if you’re lucky — a one hour pilotless flight.

But will it be safe?

That’s what aerospace engineer Jun Chen is working to ensure through
research funded by a National Science Foundation Engineering Research
Initiation grant. Chen’s lab is building a distributed computing framework for a fast and risk-bounded planning algorithm that will allow for dynamic trajectory planning and enable automated aircraft to operate safely and efficiently — and not be waylaid by disturbances like wind and weather.

“How can we find the optimal paths that can get us to a destination as fast as possible while ensuring safety is guaranteed, even in uncertain environments?” asks Chen. “And safety is critical with these autonomous
vehicles, because without it regulators won’t approve the vehicles and people won’t feel comfortable using them.”

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