ICT, FAA harness AI to take airport pavements to new heights

7/8/2022 8:02:07 AM

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering researchers smile while visiting the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The researchers include, from left: Lara Diab, Angeli Jayme, Johann Cardenas, Lama Abufares, Imad Al-Qadi, Navneet Garg (FAA), Egemen Okte and Qingwen Zhou.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering researchers visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The researchers include, from left: Lara Diab, Angeli Jayme, Johann Cardenas, Lama Abufares, Imad Al-Qadi, Navneet Garg (FAA), Egemen Okte and Qingwen Zhou.

By McCall Macomber, Illinois Center for Transportation

CEE at Illinois researchers from the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) recently visited the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The visit included a presentation on an FAA-sponsored project and a tour of the William J. Hughes Technical Center’s facilities.

CEE graduate students Egemen Okte, Qingwen Zhou, Johann Cardenas, Lama Abufares and Lara Diab visited the facility with Imad Al-Qadi, ICT director and UIUC Bliss Professor of Engineering, and Angeli Jayme, CEE research scientist.

Imad Al-Qadi, UIUC Bliss Professor of Engineering and ICT director, measures pavement rutting after conducting research at FAA’s National Airport Pavement and Materials Research Center. He and his students simulated loads from various airplane landing gear configurations and used the data to validate their developed model.
Imad Al-Qadi, UIUC Bliss Professor of Engineering and ICT director, measures pavement rutting after conducting research at FAA’s National Airport Pavement and Materials Research Center. He and his students simulated loads from various airplane landing gear configurations and used the data to validate their developed model.

The team presented their research on the FAA project, “Building Machine-learning-based Prediction Models for Computationally Efficient Airfield Pavement Analysis.”

 Al-Qadi and Navneet Garg, FAA’s program manager at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, serve as project lead and FAA’s project manager, respectively. 

The project aims to harness two artificial intelligence techniques — deep learning and machine learning — to predict the responses of airport pavement under different landing gear configurations more quickly and cost-effectively.

Their approach utilizes advanced modeling and responses from sensors in the pavement to develop an alternative technique to costlier methods, where researchers build real test sections and collect data from embedded sensors to understand when distresses will occur and when repairs will be needed.

Al-Qadi and his team will use the AI techniques to reduce the time needed to simulate real-world pavement structure responses, while building easily accessible and accurate models.

Their developed technique will model data more quickly as well as help predict simulated cases and provide more generalized models.

The project, which started September 2020, will conclude August 2023.

Qingwen Zhou, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral candidate, poses in front of the National Airport Pavement Test Vehicle, a rail-based device capable of simulating aircraft weighing up to 1.3 million pounds, at Federal Aviation Administration’s National Airport Pavement Test Facility.
Qingwen Zhou, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral candidate, poses in front of the National Airport Pavement Test Vehicle, a rail-based device capable of simulating aircraft weighing up to 1.3 million pounds, at Federal Aviation Administration’s National Airport Pavement Test Facility.

“It was great to host the UIUC team working on the project,” Garg said. “My colleagues and I were impressed by the progress made on the project.”

While at the facility, the students also saw state-of-the-art airfield pavement research firsthand at FAA’s National Airport Pavement Test Facility (NAPTF)  and National Airport Pavement and Materials Research Center (NAPMRC).

“Observing management and operation of full-scale test facility like NAPTF and NAPMRC to generate pavement performance data must have given a different perspective to the graduate student team working on this project,” Garg said.

“I hope they were impressed by our pavement test facilities and will keep NAPTF and NAPMRC in mind when they are looking for a place to work after graduating from university,” he added.

For Zhou, the opportunity to see FAA’s test facilities in person was “amazing.”

“To see that FAA has an amazing facility with such dedicated people is inspiring to us all!” Zhou said. “We really appreciate the opportunity.”