Airbus has begun to introduce autonomous features to its helicopter Flightlab that will simplify mission preparation and management, reduce helicopter pilot workload, and further enhance safety. The new project, known as Vertex, is 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 significant technological breakthroughs.
The new autonomous capabilities include 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 create a system that can manage navigation and route preparation, automatic take-off and landing, as well as following a predefined flight path.
Airbus has begun the incremental integration of these technologies, with a complete demonstration planned for 2023. Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility program will also benefit from this technology as an essential stepping stone towards autonomous flight. Airbus’ mission is not to move ahead with autonomy as a target in itself, but to explore autonomous technologies alongside other technological innovations. This will allow the company to analyse the potential to enhance future operations, and at the same time, leverage these opportunities to further improve aircraft safety.
Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer at Airbus, commented: “We are excited by the potential that the Vertex demonstrator project has to offer. By using our platform-agnostic flying laboratory to mature these technologies, we have an agile and efficient test bed that will support the development of future autonomous systems that could later equip Airbus’ current helicopter range and (e)VTOL platforms.”
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