ÉTS launches a major research project

Next-Generation Software Defined Avionics Radio for Aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Monday, July 15, 2019

École de technologie supérieure is proud to announce a major international research project in the field of next-generation avionics. Interview with Professor René Jr Landry.

Professor René Jr Landry, a Researcher in the Electrical Engineering Department and Director of the Laboratory of Space Technologies, Embedded Systems, Navigation and Avionics (LASSENA) at ÉTS, has secured a major grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Québec (CRIAQ) for his upcoming work with a network of partners/leaders from the aerospace industry, along with other experts and researchers from the university.

In September 2019, Professor Landry with his colleagues and partners will be launching a large-scale research and development project in the field of next-generation software defined avionics radio (SDAR). The project will cover a period of four years.

With funding from the NSERC, financial support from CRIAQ and a number of strategic industrial partners, including Thales Canada and Bombardier, some thirty leading researchers and university students will design, develop and test a multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) software defined avionics radio for communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems for modern aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Professor Landry answers a few questions concerning this major research project.

What is the scope of this project?

The project involves integrating, or in some sense, breathing life into our new technologies through concrete applications in the air transportation sector, now and in the future.

More specifically, this project will enable our team to continue its previous research in the area of modern avionics at LASSENA, as we worked in close collaboration with our industrial partners on the AVIO-404 and AVIO-505 projects, which were completed in 2018. Building on the considerable success of those projects – very promising results, a number of publications and awards of excellence – the NSERC has now given us the green light to take our research to the next level.

Over the next four years, we will be developing and testing an ultra-flexible, intelligent and versatile next-generation software defined avionics radio. The total amount of funding invested by industry and the granting bodies will be in the order of $2.3 million.

How will this software defined radio be different from currently existing systems?

In addition to delivering better performance, it will allow CNS avionics systems in modern aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles to be integrated in a single hardware unit inside a robust, redundant and optimized architecture. This architecture will offer a number of advantages, especially in terms of security, data integrity and portability.

These CNS functions are currently performed by a series of disparate and overlapping hardware units, and although they are very secure, these systems do not communicate with each other very efficiently. They require kilometres of wiring and multiple connecters, which increases the weight and volume of avionic equipment. The current architecture is complex and cumbersome in terms of hardware, software and maintenance.

Why are there so many components in modern aircraft?

I often remind myself that the needs in the area of avionics systems were developed a century ago, following World War I. The systems were quite primitive at the beginning, and over time, they became more sophisticated – from instrument landing systems to tactical air navigation systems to GPS and radar altimeters, for instance. But they were each developed in a vacuum, in a manner of speaking.

Did you know that an aircraft can contain up to 100 kilometres of wiring and thousands of connecters just for the avionics? If we think about the critical parameters of an aircraft, such as the Size, the Weight, the Power and the Cost of its components (so-called SWaP-C), it is easy to see why it would be worthwhile to integrate all of the avionics, not to mention the environmental and security aspects.

One can make a comparison to smart phones, where a single hardware unit contains a phone, a messaging system, a camera, a voice recorder, various navigation (GPS) and communication (Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE) systems, an agenda, a calculator – all applications that used to require individual devices, but are now seamlessly connected!

Who is involved in this collaboration among universities and industry?

In addition to the granting bodies, the NSERC and CRIAQ, the industries that are acting as technology and strategic partners in this international project include Thales Canada, Bombardier, ACSS (Aviation Communication & Surveillance System) and SII Canada, all of which offer knowledge and expertise in the area of next-generation avionics.

Our university partners include Polytechnique Montréal, in the person of Professor Jean-Jacques Laurin, who is an expert in antennas. Here at ÉTS, Professors Frédéric Nabki and Dominic Deslandes are intimately involved in the research related to radiofrequency systems and antennas.

What type of equipment will be affected by this new technology?

During each year of this research project, our students and researchers will conduct flight tests involving various types of aircraft, primarily and ideally based at the Saint-Hubert Airport. The purpose of these periodic tests will be to confirm, under real flight conditions, the performances measured in the lab through a variety of flight test scenarios. The certification processes for this multi-system software defined radio (covering a number of industry standards) will be adhered to in order to facilitate commercialization by our industrial partners.

From a commercial perspective, all types of aircraft will be able to integrate the radio into their avionics equipment. Once our industrial partners have completed the certification process for the product, it will be accessible to business jets, major carriers, small pleasure aircraft and future drones/pilotless aircraft. One can even envision air taxis in the not-too-distant future.

Will it be exclusively applicable to the aeronautical sector?

It is expected that this next-generation of software defined radio will also apply to self-driving cars, the transportation industry in general (trucks, trains), underwater vehicles, space-based and medical technologies, among others.

Software defined radio is already part of our daily lives, but we are currently taking advantage of less than 10% of its capabilities and possibilities. Developing this technology will lead to many new applications.

Why is this project so exciting?

To begin with, it involves the world of avionics, which gains to be better known! Of course, as an aircraft professional pilot, I find it myself very exciting, but I also have a natural passion for communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems.

As a general rule, these systems often involve the work of experts for a specific system, whereas by definition, avionics integrates all CNS systems together. Avionics represents the cornerstone underlying all of the services required to ensure the security of transportation systems. Having confidence in air transportation is critical! That is why billions of dollars are invested on a continuous basis, to ensure confidence and enhance security. Furthermore, with the development of new autonomous transportation applications, security is becoming more important than ever.

On top of that, in addition to conducting research and simulations in the laboratory, our students will be testing the developed technologies under real flight conditions and divers scenarios, in the field, with teams working on the ground and teams working in the air, accompanied by professional pilots. There will be numerous trips between our laboratories and the fieldwork in order to constantly improve the new system and its interoperability with actual and future ground infrastructure.

Can you describe in more detail how these trips between your laboratories and the fieldwork will play out.

It is a proven research method in our sector of activity that follows six steps:

  1. Research and development of the prototype in the lab;
  2. The HIL (Hardware-in-the-loop) step, where we conduct tests in the laboratory using an avionics simulator and real simulated radiofrequency signals;
  3. Ground tests (Outdoor on the field with airplane on ground);
  4. Flight tests;
  5. Feedback on the results;
  6. Adjustments to the system.

Then we start the whole process over with each new avionics function, until we are completely satisfied with the performance of the software defined radio. While this work is being done, we will also be taking into account the certification processes for all of the functionalities in order to facilitate and reduce the steps required, along with the associated costs, which are substantial.

Why was ÉTS chosen for this innovative project?

I believe it has to do with building on the success of our previous projects: AVIO-404 and AVIO-505. Our industrial partners, including Bombardier, asked us to continue our work at a higher level. I also believe, quite humbly, that our LASSENA laboratory has built a solid reputation. We are the leading experts in avionics in Québec, and especially in the fields of software defined avionics radio and embedded systems.

How will you recruit the required research personnel?

Considering the fact that we need close to thirty highly qualified researchers and university students, it will be a bit of a challenge. We are in the process of developing a hiring plan to select the world's best students, which will be put into practice this fall.

See also:
LASSENA - Laboratory of Space Technologies Embedded System, Navigation and Avionic

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