Honeywell has started flight testing sensors that will guide urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles to land without pilot intervention.
According to Honeywell, the automated landing system uses cameras that analyze visual markings resembling QR codes, which help guide the vehicle to a designated landing spot. Initial data collection was compiled in Arizona using the company’s own Airbus AS350 helicopter (which was recently replaced in its flight test department by a Leonardo AW139).
Honeywell told eVTOL.com that this program has been conducted separately from its collaboration with Daedalean, the Swiss artificial intelligence (AI) startup that is developing an autonomous flight control system using computer vision. While such AI-based solutions could enable safe landings in a range of off-nominal situations, this particular automated landing system could play a role in high-volume normal operations.
“Introducing numerous piloted and autonomous aircraft in dense urban environments is a real challenge in making the UAM vision achievable,” stated Matt Picchetti, Honeywell Aerospace’s vice president and general manager for Navigation and Sensors. “Navigation is a key part of Honeywell’s heritage, from the industry’s first autopilot to the opportunities we see today in urban air mobility. We are drawing on this expertise and our problem-solving capabilities to lead the way in identifying and bringing to market the most effective technologies to support safer, and increasingly autonomous, UAM operations.”
Honeywell suggested that automated landings could make vehicle throughput more predictable and reduce turnaround time — two elements that are key to the air taxi business model. Automated landings also promise to ease pilot workload during a critical phase of flight, thereby enhancing passengers’ safety and comfort.
In collaboration with partners, Honeywell plans to continue its data collection work for the rest of 2020, with the demonstration of fully automated landings expected within roughly the next 12 months. When fully developed and tested, the system will join other solutions in the company’s rapidly expanding UAM product portfolio.