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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V056522/1
Title: Advancing Probabilistic Machine Learning to Deliver Safer, More Efficient, and Predictable Air Traffic Control
Principal Investigator: Everson, Professor R
Other Investigators:
Gabasova, Dr E Girolami, Professor M Weller, Dr A
Awad, Dr E
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Microsoft NATS Ltd
Department: Research
Organisation: The Alan Turing Institute
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2021 Ends: 30 June 2026 Value (£): 3,156,740
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence Control Engineering
Human-Computer Interactions Statistics & Appl. Probability
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Mar 2021 Prosperity Partnerships Round 4B Full Proposal March 2021 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The ambition of this partnership between NATS and The Alan Turing Institute is to develop the fundamental science to deliver the world's first AI system to control a section of airspace in live trials.

Our research will take a hierarchical approach to air traffic control (ATC) by developing a digital twin alongside a multi-agent machine-learning control system for UK airspace. Furthermore, the partnership will develop technical approaches to deploy trustworthy AI systems, considering how safety, explainability and ethics are embedded within our methods, so that we can deliver new tools which work in harmony with human air traffic controllers in a safety-critical environment.

Little has changed in the fundamental infrastructure of UK airspace in the past 50 years, but demand for aviation has increased a hundredfold. Aviation 2050, a recent government green paper, underlines the importance of the aviation network to the prosperity of the UK to the value of £22 billion annually. Yet our nation is at risk without rapid action to modernise our airspace and control methods, to ensure they can handle a future increase in UK passenger traffic of over 50% by 2050 and new challenges arising from unmanned aircraft, both against a backdrop of increasing global pressures to transform the sector's environmental impact.

The augmentation of live air traffic control through the use of AI agents which can handle the complexity and uncertainties in the system has transformative potential for NATS's business. This will positively impact live operations, as well as a research tool and training facility for new ATCOs. Correspondingly, NATS's research vision is to exploit new approaches to AI that enable increases in safety, capacity and environmental sustainability while streamlining air traffic controller training.

The anticipated benefits of AI systems to air traffic control have come at a critical time, providing us with an opportunity to respond effectively to the unprecedented challenges which arise from a triad of crises: the coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, Brexit and global warming. The UK must develop independent technical advances in the sector, without compromising sustainability targets.

The Alan Turing Institute is positioned at the rapidly evolving frontiers of probabilistic machine learning, safe and trustworthy AI and reproducible software engineering. Matching this with the world-leading expertise of NATS, supported by a world-first data set of more than 20 million flight records, means that this partnership is in a unique position to build the first multi AI agents system to deliver tactical control of UK airspace.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: https://www.turing.ac.uk