Most conversations about autonomous aircraft focus on smaller planes. But Airbus decided to go large when it comes to taxi, take off, and landing automation. Very large. The aircraft manufacturer announced this week the successful conclusion of its Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off and Landing (ATTOL) project using the A350-1000 XWB aircraft.
The two-year test program demonstrated the ability for a commercial aircraft to use a fully automated, on-board image recognition system to operate through all three critical phases of flight.
The company highlights the use of machine learning algorithms and automated tools for data labelling, processing and model generation as part of an effort to help pilots focus less on aircraft operations and more on strategic decision-making and mission management. The autonomous flight concept will join areas such as materials, alternative propulsion systems and connectivity in helping Airbus to advance new business models and processes based on how aircraft are developed, manufactured, flown, powered and serviced.
Airbus will use the data gathered during more than 500 test flights to consider the potential of these technologies for enhancing future aircraft operations, all the while improving aircraft safety, ensuring today’s unprecedented levels are maintained. More than 90% of the test flights focused on learning and training the algorithms while just a tiny portion delivered on the autonomous flights, as would be expected from such an early stage effort.
Even with the demonstration of automation there does not appear an expectation for removing pilots from the flight deck any time soon. Still, the goal of reducing the work load during these critical phases of flight is a noble one.
Plus, this program has the benefit of reaching a successful conclusion, unlike the electric engine research partnership with Rolls Royce that was killed off earlier this year.
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