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Dragonfly-inspired autonomous flight technologies tested by Airbus

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The Airbus UpNext project is inspired by dragonflies' phenomenal vision, ability to see 360° and recognise landmarks
The Airbus UpNext project is inspired by dragonflies' phenomenal vision, ability to see 360° and recognise landmarks

Pilot assistance technologies including automated emergency diversions and automatic landing are being tested in a new Airbus demonstrator project.

Known as DragonFly – the project is inspired by the insect’s phenomenal vision, ability to see 360° and recognise landmarks – the technologies are being tested by the Airbus UpNext subsidiary on an A350-1000 test aircraft. 

The on-ground and in-flight systems also include taxi assistance. They are aimed at evaluating the feasibility of further autonomous flight systems, which UpNext hopes could make flights safer and more efficient.

“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.

“Inspired by biomimicry, the systems being tested have been designed to identify features in the landscape that enable an aircraft to ‘see’ and safely manoeuvre autonomously within its surroundings, in the same way that dragonflies are known to have the ability to recognise landmarks.”

Flight tests included assisting pilots in-flight and during landing, managing a simulated incapacitated crew member event. By taking external factors such as flight zones, terrain and weather conditions into account, the aircraft generated new flight trajectory plans and communicated with Air Traffic Control and an airline Operations Control Centre.

UpNext also explored features for taxi assistance, which were tested in real-time conditions at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. The technology provided the crew with audio alerts for obstacles, assisted speed control, and guidance to the runway.

The subsidiary is also launching a project to prepare a next generation of computer vision-based algorithms for landing and taxi assistance.

The tests involved partners including Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Honeywell, Onera and Thales. DragonFly was partially funded by the French Civil Aviation Authority as part of the French Stimulus plan.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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