NASA Helps Prevent Airplane Accidents
NASA Helps Prevent Airplane Accidents

Watch this video about the Single Aircraft Accident Prevention Project, which will help reduce aircraft accidents.

NASA

Imagine you hear a phone ringing. What's the first thing you do? That probably depends on a lot of things, such as where you are, the time of day, what you're doing, who's with you, what the ring tone sounds like and whether it's actually your phone. If you're walking through a grocery store and you hear a phone ringing from several aisles away, you'll probably realize it's not your phone and just ignore it. If you're in your car, you might decide whether you can answer the phone based on the traffic or whether you have a hands-free device.

That's a lot of variables just to decide whether to answer the phone, and you could probably think of many other reasons you might answer or ignore a ringing phone. Our brains are powerful computers that can quickly process all those conditions, decide on the best response and instruct our bodies to take action. Throughout human history, creating a machine that can replicate that process correctly in every scenario has been almost unimaginable. Today, though, technology like DIDO software and hardware is helping make such machines a reality.

Just as there's no one correct response to a ringing phone, there's no one correct way to steer an airplane or move a robot's legs. There can be a best response, though, given all the conditions affecting the scenario. In the airplane's case, how a pilot steers toward the destination is affected by the elevation, speed, wind direction, air speed and any of a hundred other variables at a given moment in time. Human pilots process and respond to all this information.

Can a computer truly replicate this process? That's where technology like DIDO comes in. DIDO is software programmed to run on the MATLAB scientific computing platform which, in turn, requires Microsoft Windows. Computers can use DIDO to process large and ever-changing amounts of data into a reliable best response. DIDO was developed in the late 1990s by U.S. Naval Postgraduate School professor Isaac "Mike" Ross. At the time, Ross and colleague Fariba Fahroo were conducting research in optimal control theory and computation. We'll look more at optimal control theory later.

Today, DIDO is part of hardware and software solutions marketed by Elissar Global. This article covers the kinds of problems DIDO is helping to solve and some breathtaking technological applications of DIDO optimal control technology. Let's start with a look at how researchers across many fields are making use of DIDO.