Airbus UpNext is testing a pilot assistance feature called DragonFly that could save an aircraft and its passengers or cargo in an emergency. The autonomous technology has so far demonstrated it can manage a simulated incapacitated crew member event, along with automatic landing and taxi assistance.
“These tests are one of several steps in the methodical research of technologies to further enhance operations and improve safety,” said Isabelle Lacaze, head of the DragonFly demonstrator. The technology trialled in an A350-1000 demonstrator plane can automatically land on any runway, help pilots taxi around airports, control speed and alert crew members to obstacles.
DragonFly is inspired by biomimicry and can recognize landmarks to enable the aircraft to ‘see’ and safely manoeuvre autonomously within its surroundings. It also takes into account external factors like flight zones, terrain, and weather conditions to make on-the-fly decisions for a new trajectory plan as well as communicate with air traffic control.
At Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France, Airbus UpNext trialled taxi assistance with audio alerts for obstacles, assisted speed control and guidance on the runway using a dedicated airport map.
Airbus is also initiating a project to prepare algorithms for computer vision-based landing and taxi assistance. These assessments are meant to evaluate “the feasibility and pertinence of further exploring autonomous flight systems in support of safer and more efficient operations.”
Such autonomous systems could drastically improve safety by reducing human error while also tracking data regarding environmental conditions such as weather, terrain or air traffic control restrictions.
Such advancements could be revolutionary for the aviation industry; advancing automation capabilities would allow airlines to reduce costs while improving passenger’s experience at the same time. By using DragonFly’s data collection abilities, airline companies could gain valuable insights into their operations which would lead to better decisions when it comes to weather or route planning.