Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students recently became among the first to test a new voice communication system for remotely piloted aircraft. In a collaboration with the university’s Prescott, Arizona, campus, a team of researchers from Reliable Robotics, a California-based automated-aviation firm, used the virtual simulators at Embry-Riddle’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) laboratory to produce real-world insights.

Reliable Robotics is making steady progress toward Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of safety-enhancing technologies, including auto-land, auto-taxi and auto-takeoff, as well as high-precision navigation and remote piloting capabilities. These technologies are expected to prevent many common causes of fatal aviation accidents and save lives.

Student volunteers tested the company’s remote voice communication system by taking on the roles of both pilots and air traffic controllers. The scenarios replicated busy airspace environments, according to volunteer Carol Martin, an Aeronautical Science graduate who is now working to earn an Aircraft Dispatcher certificate.

“People were flying from point A to point B, finishing their climb or starting their descent, but mostly everyone was just at cruise until the tower gave clearance to land,” she said. “I learned more about technology development and the value of rigorous testing as I was exposed to the specific challenges Reliable Robotics is working to solve.”

Reliable Robotics has been working closely with the FAA, NASA and a broad group of aviation stakeholders to determine the safest path for the seamless integration of new entrants and advanced autonomy into the National Airspace System. Extensive performance testing is a critical step toward this integration.

Reliable Robotics made aviation history in 2019 when it demonstrated an uncrewed flight of a Cessna 172 over a populated region in Northern California. The company is also part of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign and secured a contract with the U.S. Air Force earlier this year to explore the automation of large, multi-engine jets.

The company came to Embry-Riddle to test its voice communications system in an environment that could provide realistic scenarios reflecting big air traffic sectors.

“They’re one of the few facilities in the nation that have such a robust ATC simulation environment,” said Chad Healy, senior human factors engineer at Reliable Robotics.

“We are very thankful that Embry-Riddle provided us with quick access to highly trained air traffic students,” Healy said. “Students could see the end-to-end operations from the air traffic side as well as the pilot side. They provided great feedback throughout the test campaign, and we collected valuable data that will help us refine our system.”