Airbus Helicopters tests advanced autonomous technologies

Airbus Helicopters has begun testing autonomous technology bricks involving the aerospace giant’s Flightlab helicopter.

The technology demonstrator project is codenamed Vertex. Flightlab (H130) is Airbus’ platform-agnostic flying laboratory.

With the new technologies Airbus aims to simplify mission preparation and management, reduce helicopter pilot workload, and further increase rotorcraft safety.

These technologies could be transferred to current Airbus helicopters and future e-VTOL craft.

The incremental integration of these technologies onto the Flightlab helicopter has already begun, ahead of a complete demonstration in 2023.

The autonomous technology features integrated into the Flightlab helicopter are: 2-axis camera, infrared camera and LIDAR camera, serving as vision-based sensors integrated with algorithms for situational awareness and obstacle detection; fly-by-wire for enhanced autopilot; and an advanced human-machine-interface – in the form of a handheld tablet and head worn display for inflight monitoring and control.

Airbus says the combination of these technologies will result in an on-board system to manage automatic taxiing, take-off, navigation and landing, while following a predefined flight path.

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer, Airbus, said: “We are excited by the potential that the Vertex demonstrator project has to offer.

Technology transfer

“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’ current helicopter range and e-VTOL platforms,” Vittandini added.

Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility will also benefit from the new technologies, as an essential stepping stone towards autonomous helicopter flight.

Airbus’ mission is not to move ahead with autonomy as a target in itself, but to explore autonomous technologies alongside other technological innovations.

In doing so, Airbus is able to analyse the potential to enhance future operations, and at the same time, leverage these opportunities to further improve aircraft safety.

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.

Airbus UpNext also evaluates, matures and validates new products and services that encompass radical technological breakthroughs.

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