What does NASA have to do with the transportation sector? More than you imagine!

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Anyone who follows the car analysis here at Canaltech already knows that the cars are more and more technological, with many items linked to connectivity, safety, handling and comfort. In addition, we have a series of other vehicles that also rely on increasingly innovative technologies and are part of our daily lives in a very natural and present way, such as airplanes and drones.

The modernization of transport is moving fast towards electrification and automation, with electric and hybrid cars, less and less polluting and efficient airplanes and, of course, autonomous vehicles.

What if we said that NASA plays an important role in a large part of these improvements and innovations? The space agency highlighted five situations that show how it interfered in the transport market and helped companies and automakers to make their products safer and more efficient.

1. Data for autonomous vehicles
For automobiles to be completely autonomous, they need to be able to see and evaluate what happens in the environment, such as the presence of people, vehicles and traffic signs. This is possible with the help of cameras and programs that are able to detect obstacles.

According to NASA and engineer Farzin Amzajerdian, this technology is very similar to 3D cameras used in lunar modules. According to him, these devices in automobiles detect the range of light and send laser signals to calculate distance and obstacles. NASA sold this technology to partners who are investing in autonomous cars – but did not actually name the companies.

2. Air traffic control
To help air traffic controllers reconcile the activities of airplanes and drones, NASA appears to be working on solutions to contain this possible problem – as the number of drones continues to grow. According to the agency, there is work to automate and optimize airspace control with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates aviation in the USA) and private companies to create the necessary technology to manage this possible increase in flights, avoiding future collapses of airspace.

One of the companies that spoke to NASA built a system that can more easily file flight plans, view airspace, obtain landing permits in restricted areas and other activities, all automatically.

3. Software modeling for flying taxis
Some companies, like Uber, already work with the real possibility of so-called flying taxis. According to NASA, work is underway with the company to create software that generates new aircraft designs and helps engineers discover what works and how the best possible vehicle can be built.

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Because flying taxis are completely new vehicles, it is not very clear how the products will behave with the high variety of passengers. Therefore, this system can facilitate the production of the flying car so that it can withstand different weights and fuel consumption, for example.

4. More agile manual controls
According to NASA, it has helped in the development of several joysticks over the years, either for airplanes or for video games. The agency explains that it had to do this on account of the astronauts themselves, since, with those heavy suits and with little mobility, the control of the modules and other ships needs to be facilitated.

A former astronaut, Scott Parazynski, has gained extensive experience training and using NASA joysticks for jobs such as maneuvering the robotic arm of the International Space Station. He realized that similar technology could have even more impact on Earth, such as for using robotic arms for surgery.

In addition, the drone market can also benefit, since with more precise controls, it is possible to use these small aircraft to record better videos, inspect risky locations and assess damage after natural disasters.

5. Aerial view of plantations
NASA will soon launch Mars Helicopter for Mars, a super light drone that will be able to capture aerial images of the Red Planet. The Martian drone will arrive there next to the Perseverance rover, which should launch in 2020. This “helicopter”, however, can also have missions – simpler, it is true – here on Earth.

Because it is light and efficient, weighing just 1.5 kg and rotating wings that rotate 3,000 times per minute, this small aircraft can fly very fast and high, being able to capture images of crops and transmit them to farmers so that they can make more accurate assessments, better targeting their resources and inputs, such as water and fertilizers. The most interesting thing is that this drone (like the Mars Helicopter) is powered by solar energy.


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