Under the project code name Vertex, Airbus is expanding its Flightlab test helicopter program to explore and demonstrate the technologies and advantages of autonomous flight. The helicopter will feature vision-based sensors and algorithms for situational awareness and obstacle detection; fly-by-wire for enhanced auto-pilot; and an advanced human-machine-interface – in the form of a touchscreen and head-worn display for inflight monitoring and control.
The combination of these technologies will enable a system that can manage navigation and route preparation, automatic take-off and landing, and follow a predefined flight path. The incremental integration of these technologies onto the helicopter Flightlab has begun ahead of a complete demonstration in 2023.
Airbus’s Urban Air Mobility division will also benefit from this technology as an essential stepping stone toward autonomous flight.
“We are excited by the potential that the Vertex demonstrator project has to offer,” said Grazia Vittadini, chief technology officer, Airbus. “By using our platform-agnostic flying laboratory to mature these technologies, we have an agile and efficient testbed that will support the development of future autonomous systems that could later equip Airbus’s current helicopter range and (e)VTOL platforms.”
Vertex will be managed by Airbus UpNext, an Airbus subsidiary created to give future technologies a development fast-track by building demonstrators at speed and scale, evaluating, maturing and validating new products and services that encompass radical technological breakthroughs.
As part of the project, Airbus will partner with leading automotive lidar supplier Luminar Technologies, Inc, with experts from both companies working closely together to enhance the sensing, perception and system-level capabilities to enable safe, autonomous flight.
“As the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, Airbus has a long history of actively setting a new bar for the future of the aerospace industry, and the Luminar partnership with Airbus UpNext only furthers that trend,” said Austin Russell, CEO and founder of Luminar Technologies.
“We’re able to directly re-apply what we’ve accomplished for the automotive industry into aviation, an established nearly US$1tn industry. We believe that automation and safety enhancements will transform how we move across all modes of transport as we take our technology from roads to the skies. We look forward to accelerating our shared vision to define the future of flying.”
“Partnering with Luminar, an industry leader in safe autonomous technologies, will help us define and explore the next step toward more autonomous flight vehicles,” concluded Dr Sandra Bour Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext and head of Airbus Group Demonstrators.