Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has started testing new technologies, inspired by dragonflies, to enhance on-ground and in-flight pilot assistance. The tests are being conducted on an A350-1000 aircraft through the company’s subsidiary Airbus UpNext.
Known as DragonFly, the technologies being demonstrated include automated emergency diversion in cruise, automatic landing and taxi assistance and are aimed at evaluating the feasibility and pertinence of further exploring autonomous flight systems in support of safer and more efficient operations.
In the same way that dragonflies can recognise landmarks that help them to define boundaries, our demonstrator is equipped with cutting-edge sensing technology and software, capable of managing in-flight and landing operations.Isabelle Lacaze, Head of DragonFly demonstrator, Airbus UpNext
“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 DragonFly demonstrator, Airbus UpNext. “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.”
During the flight test campaign, the technologies were able to assist pilots in-flight, managing a simulated incapacitated crew member event, and during landing and taxiing operations. Taking into account external factors such as flight zones, terrain and weather conditions, the aircraft was able to generate a new flight trajectory plan and communicate with both Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the airline Operations Control Centre.
Airbus UpNext has also explored features for taxi assistance, which were tested in real-time conditions at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. The technology provides the crew with audio alerts in reaction to obstacles, assisted speed control and guidance to the runway using a dedicated airport map.
In addition to these capabilities, the company is launching a project to prepare the next generation of computer vision-based algorithms to advance landing and taxi assistance. Now in its final three months of the testing phase, the aim is for DragonFly’s innovations to ultimately allow an aircraft to land at any airport in the world regardless of whether it is equipped with existing ground equipment technology currently used for automatic landing.