Airbus has started to integrate several enabling technologies for autonomous flight into its Flightlab helicopter. Through the new Vertex project, the company aims to develop and demonstrate ways to simplify mission preparation and management to reduce pilot workload with a view to introducing these innovations on next-generation rotorcraft, including eVTOLs.
The Airbus UpNext technology incubator subsidiary is overseeing the Vertex project, which will incorporate full fly-by-wire controls and a high-capacity central processing unit to support an enhanced autopilot. During this year and 2022, it will conduct initial flight tests to prepare for a full demonstration program on the Airbus H130 Flightlab aircraft to start in 2023.
The Airbus team is acting as systems integrator for onboard technology that includes a two-axis camera (provided by Merio), an infrared camera (IDS), and a lidar sensor (Luminar) to support improved situational awareness and obstacle detection. Flight trials will also incorporate a combination of a touchscreen tablet and a head-worn display.
Severin Dauvergne, head of the Vertex project, said that initial flight testing this year will focus on acquiring data from the cameras to develop flight-control algorithms. Next year, the focus will shift to acquiring data from the lidar sensor and also to converting the Flightlab helicopter to fly-by-wire controls.
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