MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: John G. Watson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMarch 31, 1998
NASA PROGRAM SPAWNS NEW SAFETY SOFTWARE FOR PILOTS
Two new software packages enabling pilots to use laptops to
avoid hazardous terrain and find their place on maps are the
latest success stories of a NASA program bringing together
entrepreneurs and space engineers.
Pilots of small planes, for whom such tools have been
largely unavailable until now due to cost and the sheer size of
bulky hardware, may soon be able to carry onboard the personal
computer equivalent of collision-avoidance systems now used by
the military and commercial airlines.
"TerrAvoid" and "Position Integrity" combine Global
Positioning Satellite (GPS) data with high-resolution maps of the
Earth's topography. Dubbs & Severino, Inc., based in Irvine,
California, has developed software that allows the system to be
run on a battery-powered laptop in the cockpit.
The packages, designed primarily for military sponsors and
now positioned to hit the consumer market in coming months, came
about as the result of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Technology
Affiliates Program. Intended to give American industry assistance
from NASA experts and to facilitate business use of intellectual
property developed for the space program, the Technology
Affiliates Program introduced the start-up company of Dubbs &
Severino to JPL's Dr. Nevin Bryant four years ago.
Dubbs & Severino had an idea for mapping software to help
private airplane pilots, inspired in part by the fatal crash of a
pilot friend of company president Bob Severino. The twist: the
package was to be completely software-driven, instead of
requiring expensive hardware, as was the norm up to that time.
Bryant's Cartographic Applications Group at JPL had
developed GeoTIFF, an architecture standard providing geo-
location tools for mapping applications. GeoTIFF proved to be
the crucial key that the start-up company needed to bring the
idea to fruition, allowing the firm to develop low-cost software
GeoTIFF is now in the public domain, and its use for
commercial product development has evolved into an industry
standard over the last year. Through the Technology Affiliates
Program, Dubbs & Severino obtained JPL's assistance early on and
thus gained a jump-start in adapting the architecture for their
products' specific needs. "JPL gave us a demonstration and
opened up the red carpet. It was a match made in heaven," says
Merle McKenzie, manager of JPL's Commercial Technology
Program, said that Dubbs & Severino's ability to utilize
technology originally developed for NASA provides a strong
example of the many advantages of technology transfer programs.
"This is a win-win partnership through which yet another American
business gets a boost from the space program," McKenzie said.
"TerrAvoid" is a terrain avoidance system that graphically
shows pilots if they are flying dangerously close to mountains:
safe sections can be seen in green, while hazardous sections show
up in red, with those proportions changing in real time as the
pilot moves through hilly terrain. In a sense, the system "looks"
out over a plane's flight path, sweeping 360 degrees, warning the
pilot if there are any upcoming hazards. Integrating Global
Positioning System (GPS) tracking data with maps on CD-ROM, this
software package is approximately 1/20th the cost of its nearest
"Position Integrity," which also co-registers real-time GPS
data with local maps on CD-ROM, is a moving map detailing the
exact position of the pilot. Because of the unique features of
GeoTIFF, this software can be adapted to operate with any map,
chart or photo image in the world, while comparable versions are
limited solely to either military, scientific or commercial maps.
GeoTIFF also enables the package to feature four windows at once,
a useful and unique option for pilots who need to work
simultaneously with maps, charts, photo images and sketches at
different scales and zoom levels.
As Severino explains, "GeoTIFF enables terrain avoidance and
navigation map packages to manipulate the pixels in each image
intelligently, making costly hardware unnecessary. Its clever
indexing scheme organizes large numbers of pixels efficiently and
inexpensively, compressing and capturing huge amounts of data
into a seamless image file. It has paved the way for
sophisticated mapping software to be made available not just to
major commercial airlines but also to small-plane pilots around
Dubbs & Severino was formed in 1994 with a flight test
contract for the Army, Navy and the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA), and today the corporation has eight
research and development contracts with various military
agencies. Just after start-up, it was awarded a U.S. Army
Research Office Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program
grant that required it to team with a university or research
laboratory, a further incentive for the company to work with JPL.
Discussions are ongoing with wholesale software firms to bring
"TerrAvoid" and "Position Integrity" to the consumer market by
the end of the year.
Further details about JPL's technology transfer activities,
including the Technology Affiliates Program, are available online
at http://techtrans.jpl.nasa.gov/tu.html . JPL is a division of
the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.