Taking another step toward self-piloting flights, an Airbus plane has successfully taken off using autonomous technology powered by computer vision systems.
The company announced the tests today, but the flights actually occurred on December 18, 2019. The test crew included two pilots, two flight engineers, and a test flight engineer. The crew staged 8 take-offs during a 4-hour period.
Typically, a plane communicates with an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which relies on radio waves broadcast across the runway to guide the pilot during the take-off process. This requires classic airport infrastructure to allow the airplane to being its flight.
In this case, the aeronautics giant installed an image recognition system in the aircraft to allow it to take off without the pilot operating the controls or the need to communicate with the runway system.
“The aircraft performed as expected during these milestone tests,” said Airbus Test Pilot Captain Yann Beaufils in a statement. “While completing alignment on the runway, waiting for clearance from air traffic control, we engaged the auto-pilot. “We moved the throttle levers to the take-off setting and we monitored the aircraft. It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centre line, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected take-off pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne.”
The company has been investing in various allow flying projects. In 2018, Airbus tested Vahana, an autonomous electric flying taxi being developed by its Silicon Valley-based A³ lab. The previous year, it unveiled “Pop.Up,” a modular transportation system that uses a drone to lift the passenger capsule of an autonomous vehicle up into the air and fly it to its destination.
In this latest test, the company said the automatic take-off is an another milestone in these broader efforts, dubbed Airbus’ Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off & Landing (ATTOL) project. The company is using these tests to examine how such systems impact the overall vehicle.
Later, this year, the company said it will conduct test flights of automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences.