After drones, here comes the first autonomous commercial cargo flight
Xwing has developed technology for the plane to automatically detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles
The future of aviation is going to change soon with drones and now autonomous aircraft making their debuts after demonstration flights.
Xwing, a US-based company, has completed its first gate-to-gate autonomous demonstration flight of a commercial cargo aircraft. The company said on April 15, 2021, that it has raised $40 million at a post-money valuation of $400 million.
The company is setting its sights on expansion: not only tripling its engineering team but eventually running regular fully unmanned commercial cargo flights.
Xwing has developed technology for the plane to automatically detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles, integrating radar, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), optical cameras and lidar. The sensor system is designed to be easily added to existing aircraft, along with navigation and control systems that allow a plane to go from taxiing to landing by itself, deciding on the most efficient flight path and adjusting to any issues along the way, while coordinating with air traffic controllers.
"Our software integrates sensors and maps with onboard flight control systems to allow regional aircraft to navigate, take off and land safer than ever before."
Xwing has been developing a technology stack to convert aircraft, including the widely-used Cessna Grand Caravan 208B, to function autonomously. But it has had to solve a few problems first: "The perception problem, the planning problem and the control problem," Xwing founder Marc Piette explained to TechCrunch.
The company has come up with a whole suite of solutions to solve these problems, including integrating lidar, radar and cameras on the plane; retrofitting the servomotors that control the rudder, braking and other functions; and ensuring that all these are communicating properly so that the plane understands where it is in space and can execute its flight.
The company has already performed close to 200 missions with its auto flight system.
For all these flights, there has been a safety pilot onboard. In addition, a ground control operator sits in a control centre and acts as a link between the autonomous aircraft to the human air traffic control operator.
(This article first appeared in avobanter.com)