DragonFly: Airbus tests autonomous flight technology inspired by dragonflies

Sensors are used for 360° vision.

©Airbus

Like automakers, Airbus continues to innovate in aircraft automation. The aircraft manufacturer’s subsidiary dedicated to innovation, Airbus UpNext, has just tested its new DragonFly system on an A350-1000. The tool must make it possible to perform complex pilot operations independently to ensure flight safety or maximize the efficiency of certain operations.

A tool inspired by goldsmiths

Specifically, DragonFly’s technologies allow “automatic emergency diversion in cruise”, “automatic landing” or “rolling assistance”. As the name suggests, the Airbus UpNext demonstrator is inspired by the jeweler’s vision and intelligent flight. With 360° vision, the insect is actually able to identify certain specific points in an image to guide its flight path. “The systems we develop and test are similarly designed to examine and identify landscape features that allow the aircraft to ‘see’ and maneuver safely in its environment.”the experts explain.

Airbus uses computer vision algorithms.

Airbus uses computer vision algorithms.

© Capture Airbus

The automation developed by the aircraft manufacturer should eventually make it possible to ensure in-flight emergency operations. If the pilots are unable to fly the aircraft, DragonFly can partially take over to direct the aircraft to an emergency airport and facilitate landing operations.

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First decisive test

To function, the system will take into account its environment and adapt its route accordingly, like a goldsmith. In addition, the safety of the approach (phase before landing) will be ensured by establishing a “constant communication channel between the aircraft and air traffic control as well as the airline’s operations control center”. DragonFly technology is based on a system that combines several sensors and “computer vision algorithms”all added “robust guidance calculations”.

The latest flight test campaign of the system seems convincing so far. Similarly, taxi assistance (aircraft movement on the runway) was successfully tested on the tarmac at Toulouse-Blagnac airport. In the future, Airbus UpNext intends to further improve its tool by developing new, even more efficient computer vision algorithms.

“These tests are one of many steps in the methodical search for technologies to further improve operations and safety”said Isabelle Lacaze, head of Airbus UpNext’s DragonFly demonstrator.

A system inspired by biomimicry, which therefore seems very promising.

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