Saab Sensis, best known for its radar-based runway safety tools, is broadening its portfolio to include system-level safety tools. “It’s a future growth area for us,” says Douglas Sweet, director of Saab Sensis advanced development.

Highlighting the evolution in the company’s role is a system verification and validation task with NASA’s Langley Research Center, as well as a three-year flight-critical systems research task order contract, also with Langley.

Research areas for Saab Sensis under the flight-critical systems contract include the development and systems analysis of airborne and ground-based systems critical to flight safety, air traffic management and control.

As part of the system verification and validation contract, the company also is focusing on new ways to determine the operational safety of highly automated, interactive systems that will be part of the FAA’s NextGen initiative, particularly where unmanned aircraft are involved. “If one aircraft is flying autonomously and another is not, and the autonomous aircraft has an equipment problem, how do you recover that aircraft back into the air traffic management system after you’ve addressed the problem?” asks Sweet. “You want to understand if your system can hold up to that.”

Saab Sensis is best known for its airport surface detection equipment model X (ASDE-X) systems, that are installed at 35 U.S. airports to provide real-time alerts of potential runway incursions. The company also builds runway status light (RWSL) systems that use ASDE-X data to alert pilots to potential conflicts, using runway or taxiway-lighting systems.

The FAA plans to have RWSL in place at 17 airports by 2017.

Sweet says Saab Sensis is testing a top-down scenario-based verification and validation methodology that involves creating scenarios that address the greatest safety concerns in terms of equipment and operational failures. “It’s not just about knowing how the system will respond, but did it respond adequately,” says Sweet.