Logo: University of Southern California

Airbus Research Projects Take Flight


October 17, 2008 — The Aerospace Institute for Engineering Research (AIER), made up of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Korea Aerospace University (KAU) and Inha University in Incheon, as well as two global corporations, has embarked on three ambitious, collaborative aerospace research projects that could benefit commercial aviation worldwide.
Korean Air Airbus 330-300

AIER was established in 2004 under the leadership of Korean Air, USC and Airbus and is supported by an initial research budget of $5 million provided by Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer. Korean Air Chairman and USC Trustee Dr. Y. H. Cho and former dean and now USC Provost C.L. Max Nikias were instrumental in setting the foundation for this joint project.

“We are now working successfully across several engineering disciplines with two top global companies and two foreign universities, spanning three continents and two oceans,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School.  “This sort of global collaboration is defining the future of engineering.”

While the projects will initially benefit Korean Air and Airbus, they could also be patented and commercialized and benefit the entire airline industry.  All three projects were unanimously endorsed by the executive level decision makers of the AIER Steering Committee held on March 20, 2008 at Inha University in Incheon, Korea.  

Professor Steve Nutt, director of the Viterbi School’s M. C. Gill Foundation Composites Center, is collaborating with Professors Won Jong Choi of KAU and Jin Yeon Cho and Chongdu Cho at Inha, to create new processes to make and repair lightweight composite materials used in Airbus aircraft.  Nutt is developing an “out of autoclave” composite fabrication technique to manufacture composite materials without the use of large, energy-consuming autoclave ovens currently required.  
Steve Nutt

“With the significant increase in the use of lightweight composite materials in commercial aircraft, this new process could be very useful for both Korean Air and Airbus,” said Nutt.  “It could revolutionize the aircraft manufacturing industry, resulting in even safer, lighter weight, and more energy-efficient aircraft.”  

Choi is developing a bonded repair process that will allow damaged composite panels on aircraft to be repaired in place, saving significant time and money.  The two professors said their collaboration and parallel research efforts should make it easier for Korean Air to operate aircraft made with large quantities of composite materials.

Ulrich Neumann, associate professor of computer science in the Viterbi School and a researcher at USC’s Integrated Media System’s Center, is working with Research Assistant Professor Suya Yu of USC and Professor Geunsik Jo at Inha on Intelligent Augmented Reality (IAR) technology, which promises to reduce errors and rework in complex maintenance processes.  IAR technology uses video recognition techniques to identify specific components in complex systems such as aircraft landing gear, and then superimposes various graphics and text messages on each component with a video display system.  

For example, a technician repairing a component such as a hydraulic actuator, could point an IAR-equipped video camera at the actuator and see graphical imagery showing warnings, cautions, maintenance procedures and material history references superimposed on the actuator.   Neumann and Jo have held a series of technical meetings that also included engineers from Korean Air and Airbus.  

Neumann said IAR technology is poorly understood and that some people confuse it with existing virtual reality and animation systems.
Ulrich Neumann
Ulrich Neumann
“There is currently nothing like IAR commercially available.  It could eliminate serious errors and accidents caused when maintenance technicians fail to heed warnings or don’t precisely follow correct maintenance procedures,” he said.

Gerard Medioni, professor of computer science at the Viterbi School and an expert in computer vision, video recognition and tracking technologies, is working with Professors Myeong-Jin Lee at KAU and Sanggil Kang at Inha to develop a video-assisted tracking system to help pilots recognize runway hazards during approach and landing.

“The challenge is to be able to identify obstacles on the runway, and promptly alert the pilot to abort the landing,” said Medioni, whose USC Viterbi team is creating the software and computer platform in their lab to process the video imagery in real-time.  He has already delivered preliminary video tracking software to his Korean colleagues for initial testing.  
Gerard Medioni

Kang and his research group at Inha are working on the decision-making logic and pilot warning parts of the system. Lee and other KAU researchers are responsible for aerial video data collection, integration and real-time acceleration of the system aboard a test aircraft, and actual flight testing.

“This is a win-win for everyone, including the universities, the companies and airline passengers,” said Yortsos.  “These projects will allow the commercial aviation industry to operate with even greater safety and efficiency across the globe.”