Northeastern Algorithm Speeds Assembly of Jet’s Safety Systems

January 3, 2013

Asso­ciate pro­fessor Pete Mano­lios and grad­uate stu­dent Vasilis Papavasileiou of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence have designed a constraint-based algo­rithm capable of assem­bling the safety-critical sys­tems in the Boeing 787 Dream­liner jet air­plane in less than 10 minutes.

The project—backed by a five-year, $1.5 mil­lion grant from the National Aero­nau­tics and Space Admin­is­tra­tion and a three-year, $478,000 con­tract from The Boeing Company—dovetails with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity, and sustainability.

The beauty of the algo­rithm lies in its ability to rapidly solve dif­fi­cult real-time com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems arising from the inter­ac­tion of safety-critical com­po­nents, such as black boxes, nav­i­ga­tion sen­sors, collision-detection algo­rithms, and con­trol systems.

“Our system is quicker and more cost-effective, but it also opens up a whole new realm of pos­si­bil­i­ties in terms of building optimal and effi­cient sys­tems that prop­erly uti­lize resources,” Mano­lios explained. “One major problem with building a system man­u­ally is that you cannot deeply ana­lyze it to foresee the long-term con­se­quences of your decisions.”

Mano­lios show­cased the algo­rithm in Utah at the 23rd Inter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Com­puter Aided Ver­i­fi­ca­tion. Auto industry rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the con­fer­ence expressed interest in using the math­e­mat­ical tools to solve com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems within cars, whose nav­i­ga­tion and con­trol sys­tems mirror those of airplanes.

The long-term goal of the project, Mano­lios noted, is to com­mer­cialize the algo­rithm for use in the pro­duc­tion of smart grids, secure net­works, and other land, sea, and air vehicles.

“This can be used in every industry where you need to assemble some­thing,” said John Chilenski, an asso­ciate tech­nical fellow for Boeing Com­mer­cial Air­planes. “We’ve also used it for solving wiring allo­ca­tion prob­lems in the Dream­liner but I could even see it being used in nuclear chem­istry to design new materials.”