Airbus uses tablet to fly fully automated helicopter


Taking the tablet: Airbus has conducted a fully automated helicopter flight using a tablet.

Airbus has used a tablet to fly a fully automated helicopter. The flight was enabled by a new human machine interface (HMI) along with advanced autonomous features through a project code-named Vertex, according to the manufacturer.

The Airbus Helicopters’ FlightLab flew fully automated from lift-off, taxi, take-off, cruise, approach and landing during a one hour test flight following a predefined route. The technologies deployed on the flight were developed by Airbus UpNext. They are controlled by a touchscreen tablet and aim to simplify mission preparation and management, cut pilot workload and enhance safety.

“This successful demonstration of a fully autonomous flight from take off to landing is a great step towards the reduced pilot workload and simplified HMI that the Airbus Urban Air Mobility team intends to implement on CityAirbus NextGen,” said Michael Augello, CEO, Airbus UpNext. “It could also have immediate applications for helicopters in low level flights close to obstacles thanks to the information provided by the lidars [light detection and ranging] on board”.

During the flight, the pilot monitored the system which is able to detect unforeseen obstacles and automatically recalculate a safe flight path. Whenever necessary, the pilot can override the controls through the tablet and resume the mission afterwards. The flight tests took place at the Airbus Helicopters’ facility in Marignane, France between October 27th and November 22nd.

Airbus Helicopters pledged to continue developing the technologies that comprise Vertex. These include: vision-based sensors and algorithms for situational awareness and obstacle detection; fly-by-wire for enhanced auto-pilot; and an advanced human-machine-interface – in the form of a touchscreen and head worn display for inflight monitoring and control.