DOT’s Intelligent Transportation view seems to be myopic

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Innovative airplane ground collision avoidance tech tested by Boeing

Boeing develops system to avoid collisions on airports 

US DoT Office of Research and Technology looking at Intelligent Transportation Systems

No indication of Aviation and Maritime Inclusion 

Boeing is advancing aviation safety by developing a Surface Operations Collision Avoidance System(SOCAS). It is designed primarily for taxiways and ramp areas, to extend the safety envelope for aircraft to be provided by ADS-B and enable separation with baggage trains, food trucks and ground operations vehicles.

“We’re trying to simulate situations at an airport, where one aircraft might get really close to another one,” said Boeing engineer Amelia Wilson. “So, if you think of the backup system on your car, it beeps at you when you get too close to something. We’re trying to do the same thing, but for airplanes.”

Boeing is utilizing as the test site its decommissioned USAF base at Glasgow, Montana. There a 777 freighter with a new radar mounted on the tip of the left wing is simulating a series of maneuvers in the taxiways and gate areas. The radar is directed to sense ground objects. As shown in the picture, the test object is a large, inflatable pylon with a sheet of aluminum taped to it—stacked on the back of a Boeing fire truck.


A simple google search of SOCAS produces such a long list of links to applications of this specific technology that one wonders what role, if any, the US Department of Transportation plays in sharing the lessons of these forms of Artificial Intelligence across the modes within its jurisdiction. In fact, Congress consolidated FHWA, FMCSA, FRA, FTA, NHTSA, MARAD and FAA into a single department to share those transmodal lessons. In 1966, it was established:

PUBLIC LAW 89-670-OCT. 15, 1966


 (b) (1) The Congress therefore finds that the establishment of a Department of Transportation is necessary in the public interest 
and to assure the coordinated, effective administration of the transportation programs of the Federal Government; to facilitate the 
development and improvement of coordinated transportation service, to be provided by private enterprise to the maximum extent feasible; 
to encourage cooperation of Federal, State, and local governments, carriers, labor, and other interested parties toward the achievement 
of national transportation objectives; to stimulate technological advances in transportation ; to provide general leadership in the 
identification and solution of transportation problems; and to develop and recommend to the President and the Congress for approval 
national transportation policies and programs to accomplish these objectives with full and appropriate consideration of the needs of the 
public, users, carriers, industry, labor, and the national defense.

Not surprisingly, one of the staff functions of the DoT is the Office of Research and Technology-Intelligent Transportation Systems
Joint Program Office
. It hosts a very impressive website full of research, “lessons learned” and success stories. None of these involve ships or planes.  On another web page, an impressive ITS Program Advisory Committee Member Roster is listed; none of them appears to be drawn from maritime or aviation.

This “overlooking” of the other modes is anomalous in light of Sec. Foxx’s touting of the FAA, SMS and the industry for their advanced safety efforts to this same automobile industry.

First, since collision avoidance involve many of the same parameters whether it is in the ground or water or air (add dimension and speed off of the ground, but exactly the same when taxiing) contexts, it would seem appropriate for ITS to have included the sister agencies within its research and development.

What is really odd, is ITS’ apparent failure to include FAA’s Traffic Collision Avoidance System experience as a relevant source of ideas and comparison. Considering that this existing program resolves potential mid-air’s in a 3 dimension, much faster operational environment, this highly acclaimed safety measure might have provided some lessons and insights for the surface operators.


Automation of the cockpit has had some hiccups. Pilots have seen their skills diminish due to their reliance on the computers. Research has identified aspects of this phenomenon which the FAA and industry are examining.

The NTSB, in investigating accidents, has voiced concerns about the man-machine interface in the cockpit and in its investigation of the fatal Tesla accident has worried about the technology in cars. Highway vehicles collision avoidance made its 2016 Most Wanted List.

Such insularity within an organization designed to learn from parallel experiences is difficult to comprehend. Transportation’s ITS myopic view should open its eyes.




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