Airbus is testing a technology called DragonFly that aims to make its jetliners fully autonomous, but many are skeptical of systems aimed at removing pilots from the cockpit


Airbus UpNext, a subsidiary of the aerospace giant that validates new technologies before deploying them across the fleet, has announced it is testing new autonomous flight technology. The new technology, called DragonFly, handles automated operations such as diversions, landings and taxiing procedures through a combination of sensors, computer vision algorithms and robust guidance calculations. Airbus presented its new DragonFly technology as an additional layer of security for emergency operations.

Airbus is exploring the next level of cockpit automation, testing a system that will provide enhanced support from ground alerts to emergency rerouting at cruising altitude in the event of crew failure. The company says DragonFly is designed to allow planes to autoland even in inclement weather or low visibility, while communicating with air traffic control as well as the airline’s operations team. The company is testing these new features on an A350-1000 aircraft at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

In the unlikely event that the crew is unable to pilot the aircraft, DragonFly technology can divert the flight to the nearest suitable airport and allow for a safe landing. Ultimately, these technologies should pave the way for automatic landing, or at least compensate for pilot failure in an emergency. The aerospace company explains in a blog post on its website whether the captain had the fish, for example. The name DragonFly (dragonfly in French) is not a mistake. According to Airbus, the technology is designed to mimic the insect’s ability to recognize specific locations.

These tests are one of many steps in the systematic search for technologies to further improve operation and security. Inspired by biomimicry and nature, such as dragonflies are known to have the ability to recognize landmarks, the systems to be developed are designed to identify landscape features that would allow an airliner to “see” and move around its environment safely and independently . said Isabelle Lacaze, head of the Airbus UpNext demonstrator, in a press release.

A DragonFly marketing video indicates that a safe landing feature is included. It works by determining the most suitable airport to land in and calculating a route there, taking into account weather, military zones and other factors. During the tests, the Airbus experimental aircraft was able to recognize and react to external conditions such as flight areas, specific terrain and the weather. The aircraft autonomously generated a new trajectory and transmitted this information to air traffic control and other airport operators.

In the video, Airbus assures that the communication links between air traffic control and the operations control center are in place. On the other hand, the company does not say how the plane communicates with air traffic control to obtain clearance to enter controlled airspace in the event of pilot incapacitation, as this task is performed through human verbal interaction. In addition, DragonFly is equipped with a taxi support application to manage its maneuvers on the ground in a very busy airport. Air traffic control clearances are interpreted and translated into ground guidance signals.

Automation has become a common feature of modern commercial aircraft, allowing pilots to delegate many tasks to computer systems, particularly at cruising altitude. Given the computing power already available today, some airlines and regulators are pushing for having only one pilot in the cockpit of commercial aircraft to reduce costs and alleviate pressure from crew shortages. However, critics of this proposal believe that it places too much responsibility on a single person.

However, in addition to the technical challenges, autonomous flight technologies must also be accepted by travelers. In other words, passengers are used to having two pilots on the flight deck. But Airbus believes that will change over time. Elevators, for example, had operators, but that concept seems strange today. “With our safety record, Airbus is ideally positioned to lead this change,” Arne Stoschek, director of the Airbus Wayfinder project, a project aimed at developing autonomous flight systems, said in a statement two years ago.

In 2020, the French aircraft manufacturer explained that autonomous flight is not synonymous with an all-or-nothing issue. She claims that it is actually a bespoke combination of man and machine that will evolve over time. According to him, the systems are focused on the management of the aircraft, while the pilot remains at the heart of operations to make decisions, receive all the necessary information and have time to analyze it. This is a goal for which the detection and avoidance image processing technology behind Airbus’ ATTOL and Wayfinder projects is essential.

Airbus UpNext has announced that it is using data from tests of the DrongFly system to “prepare the next generation of computer vision-based algorithms to drive landing and taxi assistance”. This means that in the not-too-distant future you could find yourself in an aircraft that offers far more automated functions than previous models. The subsidiary of the French aviation giant estimates that the DragonFly system will one day enable automatic landing at any airport, regardless of whether the ground equipment is equipped for this type of landing or not.

The French company did not hesitate to boast about its preparations for the future. Over the years, Airbus has funded several electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) projects, including Vahana and CityAirbus. The first was an egg-shaped, single-pilot eVTOL demonstrator, while the second can carry four passengers and has a range of 97 km. The company is also working with lidar startup Luminar to find applications for the laser sensor’s 3D mapping capabilities.

Source : airbus

And you?

How about a fully autonomous airliner?
What do you think of Airbus’ DragonFly technology?
Do you think this is an extra level of security as claimed by Airbus?
Would you be willing to board a plane without a pilot? Why ?

See also

Airbus’ A350-1000 XWB autonomous aircraft has just successfully completed taxi, takeoff and landing tests, opening the door to fully autonomous flight

Airbus selects GNAT Pro Ada from AdaCore for development of VSR700 prototype project, a tactical unmanned aerial system

Airbus already has the technology to fly unmanned aircraft, says the company’s head of sales

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