New version of ESCAPE ATC simulator will facilitate academic research worldwide

EUROCONTROL initiative aims to stimulate cooperation on research, and apply AI and machine learning in validations.

EUROCONTROL has just created a new version of ESCAPE, its state-of-the-art real-time Air Traffic Control (ATC) simulator, for use by universities and research centres in Europe and beyond.

The “ESCAPE-Light” simulator offers the same functionalities as its parent simulator, containing a set of generic exercises and a human-machine interface representative of the most common systems in Europe. This means that universities can start working with it immediately as part of their basic Air Traffic Control training for aviation students, while researchers can use it as part of projects and simulations.

20 May saw staff from 14 universities and research establishments join EUROCONTROL’s simulation experts for a five-day workshop at EUROCONTROL’s Experimental Centre in Brétigny, France. Researchers and technical experts from Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom familiarised themselves with the simulator’s functionalities, possible use cases and the installation process.

We expect that ESCAPE-Light will act as a unifying tool to encourage aviation schools to cooperate on research and to make contributions to improvement of the simulator and the validation methodology”, said Philippe Debels, head of Simulation and Validation at EUROCONTROL. “We hope that our partners will bring new Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning-based ATC or safety tools, relevant metrics, efficient data analytics and convincing validation techniques to increase capacity and we’ll help disseminating them.”

To provide maximum freedom to researchers, EUROCONTROL distributes the executable code of the simulator with a licence inspired by the open-source approach. The use of the simulator software is free of charge for researchers who share their improvements and developments with the user community, some of which could then be integrated into the original ESCAPE.

The simulator is modular by design, so users can plug in new components and exchange data with other simulators with the help of appropriate application programming interfaces (APIs) that EUROCONTROL provides. This gives freedom to researchers to develop advanced algorithms and test them in a realistic simulated environment. To train AI-based algorithms, EUROCONTROL can also provide data from past simulations that are very dense in terms of information-rich events.

The reaction from the international academic community is already extremely positive. “We have been looking for a good simulator for the last six years but as a research institute we were not able to afford expensive software. We are thrilled that EUROCONTROL is making a version of their simulator available to researchers at no cost, creating a community that will be able to share problems, solutions and data while feeding the results of research back to EUROCONTROL. It truly is a win-win situation,” explained Eri Itoh from Tokyo’s Electronic Navigation Research Institute.

Fellow academics have praised the potential of ESCAPE-Light for use in teaching, research activities around safety and human factor/human-machine interface testing.

One of the most attractive features of ESCAPE-Light is its flexibility, as CRIDA’s 

Ángel Martínez emphasises: “We need a platform that will allow us to implement new functionalities and plug-ins as opposed to a closed system that we are currently using that cannot be customised. This will help us with our research and validation projects.

ESCAPE-Light is particularly interesting for researchers working in the field of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. The team at Nanyang Technological University’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (NTU AMRI) of Singapore is working on using AI to create conflict detection and resolution tools for controllers that can the be validated in a real-time scenario using ESCAPE-Light.

We sincerely hope that sharing a common ATC simulator among universities and research centres will make it easier for all to work together on exploratory research projects”, says Philippe Debels: “running simulations on different sites with the same simulator will avoid risky data conversions and speed up all preparatory tasks.”

If you believe your university or research centre could benefit from sharing an ATC simulator with EUROCONTROL and other organisations, visit our website to find out more!

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