Wisk has agreed to partner with NASA to explore safe integration of autonomous aircraft systems through modeling and simulation, with intention to progress toward live flight trials as the partnership unfolds.
On NASA’s side, the partnership will include elements of the ongoing Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign as well as other autonomy research activities. While the National Campaign has numerous vehicle and airspace integration partners, Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, will be the first eVTOL developer strictly focused on autonomous flight to participate in the project.
“The focus of Wisk is as an automation partner, but with emphasis on automation relevant scenarios that are part of National Campaign,” Davis Hackenberg, NASA’s AAM mission integration manager, told eVTOL.com. “NASA’s automation strategy is directly linked with National Campaign via robust scenarios that will drive technology and airspace integration requirements.”
The partnership will focus on autonomy-specific elements of the National Campaign’s safety scenarios and contingency management, including collision avoidance and flight path management. Wisk and NASA plan to develop an overall validation framework for autonomous flight assessments, to include guidance on airspace structure, flight procedures, minimum performance requirements for participating aircraft, and other standards.
“NASA and autonomy partners will work together to develop safe automation architectures and requirements,” Hackenberg said. “Robust simulations and flight data will support development of these, and relevant data will be shared with standards bodies and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accelerate industry-wide certification and policy development.”
NASA is working closely with the FAA to provide data and frameworks that will assist the regulator in moving from technological development to certifying the safety of autonomous aircraft. Wisk, which has flown its autonomous two-seat eVTOL design, Cora, more than 1,400 times across at least seven prototypes, is likely an exciting partner for both government organizations exploring unpiloted systems, given the maturity of its platform.
“Wisk brings a tremendous amount of experience in eVTOL vehicle development, automation technologies, and flight test, and combines it with a safety-first mindset towards advancing autonomous flight,” said Robert Pearce, NASA Associate Administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “NASA believes our partnership with Wisk will help accelerate the realization of exciting new Advanced Air Mobility missions.”
This partnership tracks neatly with Wisk’s stated goal of bringing autonomous air taxi service to densely-populated cities in the United States. Recognizing the hurdles involved, however, the company is also working closely with New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority to launch passenger transport trials in the near future.
Dan Dalton, vice president of global partnerships at Wisk, told eVTOL.com that “details are being fleshed out, deals are being signed” with various partners involved in that effort, but routes and launch dates aren’t yet ready to be revealed.