Could a humble dragonfly pave the way for a safe and autonomous flight?

Airbus UpNext

Continuous progress is the goal when it comes to safety. Airbus is always looking for new inspiration to develop proactive solutions that can raise performance and safety.

Representative | Airbus

And what better place to get inspiration from than the magnificent natural world? Airbus’s “sharklet” wing-tip design, which decreases drag, and the fello’fly demonstrator, which imitates the formation flying of snow geese for better performance, are just a few of the innovative solutions it has developed as a result of biologically inspired engineering, also known as “biomimicry”.

Airbus

The recent biomimicry demonstration from Airbus, called DragonFly, was motivated by the common, humble “dragonfly.”

A dragonfly’s exceptional vision, 360-degree vision, and ability to recognize landmarks enable it to clearly determine the limits of its territory. Similar to how the systems the company is researching and developing review and recognize landscape elements to help the aircraft “see” and safely maneuver in its surroundings.

Especially in the context of emergency operations, these advances may add another level of safety to aircraft. In the odd event that a crew loses control of the plane, DragonFly can reroute the flight to the closest suitable airfield and help with a secure landing.

Decoding “DragonFly”

When it comes to derisking emergency operations, DragonFly could be a game-changer. Its three main areas of focus each support automated yet thoughtful decision-making by combining data collected during flight with a massive corpus of flight information.

Representative | Royal Aeronautical Society

In order to help assure safe flight and landing, DragonFly provides a solution. The onboard system recognizes a problem and automatically chooses the best airport to guide the aircraft toward if the crew is unable to manage it.

Of course, flight routes and outside variables are complicated and dynamic. A dragonfly explores its surroundings before adjusting its course. Similar to this, the DragonFly prototype makes its landing decisions by taking into account the environment, including flight lanes, topography, and weather. However, in contrast to a typical dragonfly, the DragonFly additionally gains from a continuous line of communication between the aircraft and both Air Traffic Control and the airline’s Operations Control Center to guarantee a secure and well-coordinated approach.

L’Usine Nouvelle | Representative

In the same way that dragonflies can recognise landmarks that help them to define boundaries, our demonstrator is equipped with cutting-edge sensing technology and software, capable of managing in-flight and landing operations. The DragonFly demonstrator has been made possible through cooperation within the Airbus engineering community and with our trusted external partners, and we look forward to the insights that this final stage of testing will deliver- Isabelle Lacaze, Head of DragonFly demonstrator, Airbus UpNext

Possible safe and automated landing at any airport in the world

Airbus has developed a system that combines sensors, computer vision algorithms, and reliable navigation calculations to greatly simplify landing in poor visibility or challenging weather circumstances because a dragonfly’s eyesight functions much more swiftly than a human’s.

The technologies were able to help pilots throughout the flight test campaign when handling a simulated disabled crew member event, as well as during landing and taxiing operations. The aircraft was able to construct a new flight trajectory plan and interact with both Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the airline operations control center while taking into account external factors like flight zones, topography, and weather conditions.

These advancements open the door for an automatic landing (if required) or can be tailored to the pilot’s flying abilities to relieve them of extra steps in an emergency or critical circumstance.

In the future, DragonFly’s advancements may make it possible for the plane to land at any airport in the world, regardless of whether the airport has the ground equipment necessary for automatic landing.

The crew of the DragonFly demonstration can manage taxi guidance and instructions, including navigation and surveillance, with the use of pilot assistance technology, giving them up to concentrate on other crucial responsibilities.

Airbus

Airbus has started testing new, on-ground, and in-flight, pilot assistance technologies on an A350-1000 test aircraft.

Moving forward

The final three months of DragonFly’s testing phase have already begun. Through these test flights, Airbus UpNext will be able to upgrade or validate the technology in order to incorporate advancements into the next programs.

Along with these features, Airbus UpNext is starting a project to develop the newest computer vision-based algorithms for improved landing and taxi assistance.

Cooperation between Airbus divisions and outside partners, such as Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Honeywell, Onera, and Thales, allowed for the execution of these tests. The French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) provided some funding for DragonFly as a part of the French Stimulus plan, which is a component of the European Plan, Next Generation EU, and the France 2030 plan.

SOURCE: Airbus

COVER: Machine Design

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