Under the project name Airbus UpNext DragonFly, the aircraft manufacturer is testing a system that would enable passenger planes to fly without human pilots and land fully autonomously in emergencies.
Airbus UpNext DragonFly: test underway
Airbus UpNext DragonFly, a new system for autonomous landings, is being tested by the aircraft manufacturer as an additional enhancement to the previous system, which can take hold in poor visibility conditions, for example.
The new system is said to be able to select the nearest suitable airport at any time during flight and initiate a safe landing. To do this, According to Airbus, it was inspired by a dragonfly, which can recognize territorial conditions thanks to its phenomenal vision and ability to see in 360 degrees.
“The systems we are developing and testing are designed to identify and verify features in the landscape that allow the aircraft to ‘see’ and maneuver safely in its environment.”
Airbus UpNext DragonFly focuses on three key areas to minimize the risk of emergency operations. They all rely on data that an aircraft equipped with it collects in flight, as well as additional information that supports the aircraft’s automated and intelligent decision-making.
DragonFly does this by regularly scanning the environment and adapting calculations to changing conditions. Communication between the aircraft and flight control, as well as the control center at the airport, is designed to provide additional safety.
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Test runs in Europe
Airbus UpNext, subsidiary of Airbus, has already started testing the new technology on board the A350-1000 aircraft, as the company says. With the help of the tests, the company first wants to find out whether such a system as DragonFly would be feasible at all and wants to gather additional information on whether it even makes sense to further research such autonomous flight systems “to support safer and more efficient flight”.
However, many questions remain unanswered. It is unclear, for example, how the fully automated communication of Airbus UpNext DragonFly with the control center on the ground will work at all – after all, the aircraft needs clearance for the respective airspace, among other things. The website The Register states that this would normally still require a human to perform the verbal interaction and obtain clearance.