Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): Airfield Autonomy Initiative (AAI) – Next

NCMS is pleased to announce a funding opportunity in support of the Airfield Autonomy Initiative (AAI)-Next. This initiative represents a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aerospace Research & Technology Park (NARTP), US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and the Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC).

AAI-Next is focused on expanding the use of autonomous systems on active commercial and DOD airfields. These autonomous systems must be operated on a central, common command and control system (C2). AAI-Next seeks to kickstart development of an airfield-specific C2 system that includes communication, coordination, collision avoidance, and navigation in order to set the foundation for more complex and trusted systems to potentially control some or all airfield ground operations in the future.

This exceptional opportunity comprises a 12-month development, integration, and test demonstration initiative and will provide a chance for industry and academic partners to demonstrate their proven or potential common robotic C2 capabilities and airfield automation platforms capabilities in a relevant airfield setting. This initiative is open to US registered companies only.

Submission Due Date:  February 16, 2024.  Late submissions will not be considered!

 Background:

Airfields require a broad span of routine but critical functions—foreign object debris (FOD) control, runway surveillance, ground power cart operation, etc. Many of these tasks are being demonstrated for and/or converted for use on automated vehicles, but no robust command, control, communications, coordination, navigation, and collision avoidance system exists where various ground-based robotic capabilities can rapidly and inexpensively integrate and operate on an airfield.  The FAA and AMC desire industry and academia (organizations or consortia) that can demonstrate the minimum viable product (MVP) to rapidly learn the requirements of a viable airfield automation C2 system that can enable the development and implementation of more airfield automation.

 Overview:

The AAI leadership team recognizes that many technology providers have not pursued military business because extensive barriers to entry exist (e.g., limited access to big airfields for testing, limited understanding of FAA certification requirements). This initiative will be executed via an NCMS business to business contracting mechanism, which will allow providers to demonstrate their technologies in a controlled but operationally relevant airfield setting. Simultaneously, providers will learn how to use, coordinate, and de-conflict multiple types of automated vehicles – all being operated by a common C2 system.

Capabilities Sought:

For this initiative, the FAA, NARTP, and USAF will focus on development of a C2 system for automation of airfield tasks of lawn mowing, foreign object/debris (FOD) sweeping, and perimeter patrols (for both security and wildlife management). Focused technology areas to be advanced include:

  • Use of automated technology in an airfield and flight line facilities and/or environment not initially designed for autonomy while increasing human safety without reducing performance.
  • Development, integration, and provision of interoperable, multiple-agent C2 that enables scale-up through heterogeneous integration of other ground-based airfield autonomy vehicles from a wide range of current and future technology providers.
  • Use of C2 fleet manager that coordinates assets, human-robot teaming, robot-robot teaming, reduced downtime, and task allocation based on workload.

Preference will be given to technology providers with the most mature systems (TRL-7 or above) and with the greatest desire to collaborate with others.

Response:

Interested parties are required to submit a Request to Demonstrate (RTD) proposal. The AAI leadership team will review submittals and will down-select the team (industry, academia, or consortium) that demonstrates the most mature and capable MVP, which includes a central C2 system that can readily and rapidly integrate and operate various ground-based robotic capabilities.  For this demonstration, the MVP robotic capabilities must include all of the following:

  • automated grass mowing
  • FOD sweeping
  • perimeter patrol

All technologies must be operated according to active airfield protocols through the common C2 system.  The selected industry partner or consortium will demonstrate this MVP at the FAA William J Hughes Technical Center (WJHTC), at Atlantic City Airport (ACY), and at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) in Burlington County, NJ.

Submission Due Date:  February 16, 2024.  Late submissions will not be considered!

Key Dates:

  • Jan 19: NCMS will facilitate a virtual Question and Answer Event on Zoom for industry and academia interested in submitting proposals. Government stakeholders will provide technical answers. Time 1pm – 2pm EST
  • Feb 16: Request to Demonstrate (RTD) response submissions due to NCMS.
  • March 1: AAI Leadership Team will announce selected industry/ consortium for AAI-Next
  • April 5: NCMS contract award to down-selected AAI-Next respondent
  • April 30: AAI-Next kickoff at NARTP

Click here for specific RTD submission requirements and upload instructions.

January 19, 2024 Recorded Q&A