• Airbus FlightLab cockpit. (still from Airbus video)
    Airbus FlightLab cockpit. (still from Airbus video)

Airbus Helicopters yesterday revealed it has launched program to test autonomous systems for helicopter operations, aiming to simplify mission preparation and management, reduce helicopter pilot workload and further increase safety.

Called Project Vertex, the technology is mounted in Airbus' H130 Flightlab aircraft and includes vision sensors and algorithms for situational awareness and obstacle detection, fly-by-wire for enhanced autopilot and an advanced  touchscreen and head-worn display for inflight monitoring and control.

“We are excited by the potential that the Vertex demonstrator project has to offer,” said Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer, Airbus. “By using our platform-agnostic flying laboratory to mature these technologies, we have an agile and efficient test bed that will support the development of future autonomous systems that could later equip Airbus’ current helicopter range and (e)VTOL platforms.”

Flightlab will be fitted with two-axis cameras, infrared cameras and LIDAR sensors and increased computing power with the ability to accomodate head-mounted displays and hand-held tablets as interfaces.

Airbus says the combination of these technologies will create a system that can manage navigation and route preparation, take off and land automatically and follow a predefined flight path.The company has started to integrate the systems into Flightlab with the aim of conducting a complete demonstration in 2023.

Although Airbus’ Urban Air Mobility will also benefit from automation technology, the company says autonomy is not a target in itself, rather the program is intended to explore automation alongside other innovations to enable Airbus to analyse the potential for future operations.

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