Press Release

Johns Hopkins APL Creates Autonomy Safety Net for AFWERX Autonomy Prime Program

Tue, 08/15/2023 - 10:30

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, is equipping AFWERX — a technology directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force — with capabilities to quickly and safely test autonomous vehicles in complex, interactive environments.

The work is part of AFWERX’s new Autonomy Prime program, which provides a robust, low-cost ability to rapidly evaluate, iterate and mature emerging mission and applied autonomy technologies. Autonomy Prime provides early technical scouting of industry aircraft autonomy capabilities by removing roadblocks that prevent rapid, affordable and iterative testing.

APL researchers will provide several capabilities in support of Autonomy Prime’s goals. APL-developed TACE, which stands for Safe Testing of Autonomy in Complex, Interactive Environments, will provide a safety runtime assurance “watchdog” and Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) environments for Autonomy Prime testbeds. Sitting between a vehicle’s safety-critical control system and its autonomy and mission systems, TACE monitors commands sent from the autonomy to the autopilot and passes information such as the vehicle’s position, speed and orientation, sensor, and mission environment data back to the autonomy.

“With APL’s autonomy expertise and long history as a partner to the government, we are well positioned to help AFWERX innovate at a pace that matches the rapid growth of autonomy technologies,” said Chris Eaton, APL’s project manager for TACE. “We recognized the critical need to accelerate autonomy technologies, and over the past ten years we developed TACE to meet various sponsor needs. We look forward to expanding these technologies for Autonomy Prime.”