A global leader in avionics and software development, the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE) has embarked on an 18-month project with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help bring NextGen air traffic management (ATM) technology into “the cloud.” Cloud computing will enable airlines and air traffic controllers to perform their tasks by sharing not only real-time information but also data analysis and decision support tools to improve aircraft operations and airspace efficiency.
Cloud computing is computing that allows a user to tap into a remote location where data storage and computational capabilities are virtually limitless. It already is revolutionizing how information storage and business operations are managed on the ground but has been slower to progress in the aviation sector, especially in safety critical areas such as the ATM arena.
Today, homeowners can use cloud computing to store music, photos, videos and other files in a remote, secure place. If the hard drive on their home computer fails, the information stored in the cloud will not be compromised. Beyond common applications in the home, you are beginning to see more prevalent use of cloud computing in everyday business operations. For example, commercial airlines already are beginning to replace their data centers with cloud computing, which is saving them millions of dollars in capital and maintenance costs.
GE’s program with NASA will identify opportunities within ATM that can benefit from cloud computing.
Liling Ren, electrical engineer and project leader from GE Global Research, said, “Cloud computing has the potential to fundamentally change how air traffic management operates today. With the transition to it, airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers will be able to achieve increased information exchange, sharing decision support automation capabilities that tell them more accurately and reliably about a plane’s current position and future flight path. This will enable them to improve traffic flow and plan more preferable routes and altitudes, which ultimately means more predictable and efficient travel that is on time for passengers.”
A key program objective is to explore how air traffic controllers, airlines and aircraft can interact more efficiently in a cloud computing environment. Today ATM functionalities and capabilities are developed and hosted separately by each of these entities. The expectation is that this project can help accelerate the transition of NextGen ATM technology, which traditionally would take years or even over a decade to complete.
The effort to bring cloud computing to air traffic management is part of GE’s efforts to build the Industrial Internet. The Industrial Internet represents the next evolution in product development, creating a living network of intelligent machines and systems that allows customers to realize new heights of efficiency and performance in their operations.
In November 2011, GE announced an aggressive expansion of its software programs to harness big data and take industrial product development to the next level. The company has opened a global software headquarters in San Ramon, California, which will employ 400 new software professionals to support these efforts across GE’s business portfolio.
GE researchers will combine its growing capabilities in software with deeply embedded experience in aviation and avionics to revolutionize air traffic management. GE is a key avionics integrator, offering flight management system (FMS) capabilities to the world’s most widely operated commercial fleets.
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