Airbus’s Acubed innovation center this week rolled out the latest version of a simulation tool that it says will help support the integration of uncrewed aircraft into controlled airspace. The USim platform—which has been in development since 2020 with the support of more than 100 stakeholders including NASA, the FAA, EASA, and Eurocontrol—will now be made available to companies and other organizations working on all aspects of advanced air mobility, including the development of drones and eVTOL air taxis, uncrewed traffic management (UTM), and other infrastructure.
According to Acubed, USim provides a digital twin of each element in the UTM ecosystem. The company says the technology will give stakeholders a risk-free environment in which to test planned operations and verify interoperability between existing services.
“We use a combination of actual data and statistical approximations to model the various components of the ecosystem in our simulations,” Scot Campbell, project executive of Airbus UTM at Acubed explained to FutureFlight. These models allow us to simulate operations at scale, and are refined as more operational data is collected.”
Silicon Valley-based Acubed, which the European aerospace group established in 2015, is still working on the business model for allowing new customers to use USim. It says USim will be able to quickly simulate thousands of flight hours to expedite research and development work.
The company expects the tool to be used to develop fundamental aspects of flight operations, such as flight planning and the impact of navigation errors on operations. Researchers will also be able to use it to explore how uncrewed aircraft traffic can be deconflicted in shared airspace while ensuring safe, efficient, and fair access to the skies for the advanced air mobility services that are expected to proliferate soon.
“As a federated system UTM relies on the distributed management of airspace,” Campbell explained in a blog published on December 13. “Rather than operating under a centralized management and control authority, UTM is instead served by a network of entities and service providers that manage traffic based on negotiation, the sharing of data, common regulations, and authoritative data. The presence of these varied entities, each with its own priorities, adds an additional layer of complexity to understanding tomorrow’s UTM challenges. Simulation provides an indispensable tool to explore and assess this complexity.”
Acubed is taking a cloud-based software-as-a-service approach to deploying the digital twin technology, which it says will help researchers across multiple organizations to use USim for collaborative projects. The company hopes that new users would be able to test the interoperability of their vehicles and operating systems with other stakeholders, rather than doing siloed research that could become obsolete.
NASA has been using the USim platform to validate its AAM concept of operations, with Acubed’s sister company Metron Aviation participating in the agency’s AAM National Campaign as one of seven industry partners. Airbus’s UTM team has also used the technology for work with Eurocontrol to develop the U-Space concept for uncrewed aircraft operations, which is expected to be rolled out in Europe during 2023.
USim has also been deployed as part of the European Commission-backed SESAR project to modernize air traffic management across the continent. This work has included the AURA project to conduct rapid simulation exercises to validate how U-Space traffic could be integrated into controlled airspace with existing aircraft. This collaborative work is supported by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
Acubed played a key role in the early stages of Airbus’s plans to develop an eVTOL aircraft, by building and flight testing the single-seat Vahana technology demonstrator in 2019. The group subsequently opted to advance its ambitions with the larger CityAirbus NextGen concept, and it is now working to have a full-scale prototype ready to start flight testing in 2023.