In February, Reliable Robotics completed a series of remotely operated test flights directed by a pilot stationed in its Mountain View headquarters over fifty miles away. The remote pilot in the control center instructed an upgraded Cessna 208 Caravan to taxi, takeoff, maneuver over a populated region, and land while communicating with nearby air traffic through the aircraft’s onboard radios. The company, a leader in autonomous aircraft system development, aims to be the first to bring automated air transportation to the cargo market. The flights mark a significant advancement for remotely piloted commercial aircraft in the United States.
“Automating a large aircraft with remote piloting infrastructure is an impressive technical achievement for commercial aviation, coming years before many in the industry expected,” said Charles Graham, former CEO for Aviation, DHL Express. “Operating from a control center increases safety margins, reduces workload and enables pilots to focus on communications and complex decision making.”
Reliable Robotics debuted its advanced autoflight system on a Cessna 172 in 2019. This recent exhibition underscores the flexibility in their approach to autonomy by fully integrating the same system with the larger Cessna Caravan. The test flights serve to advance the company’s main objective of certifying its system for use on any aircraft.
Remote Piloting Infrastructure
Early test flights are conducted by a remote pilot seated in the new control center, while an onboard safety pilot concurrently monitors flight performance. Data and experience gathered during each flight informs future engineering decisions, supports operational design within the workspace, and helps test and improve onboard control systems. With regulatory oversight and experimental approval to fly remotely piloted aircraft, the company plans incremental certification with gradually increasing autonomy.
Signaling the importance of trained pilots in their automation solution as well as the security implications associated with remotely operated aircraft, leadership from the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon 2 programs joined the team to develop the system’s human interface and cybersecurity framework. By leveraging existing training programs, pilots with established credentials and experience can transition into remote operation roles using knowledge and skills they already have.
Unlike today’s commercial autopilots, Reliable Robotics envisioned and built a system capable of remote operation from a control center staffed with professional pilots:
“Routine flight testing from our control center is essential for validating our design and developing human factors guidelines for commercial remote piloting,” said Casey Klebba, Director of Remote Piloting at Reliable Robotics. “Equally important is our work to support and advance the certification basis for autonomous aircraft systems so they can be operated at scale.”
Dynamic Air Transportation Systems
In recent years, the aviation industry has moved to the forefront of commercial autonomous vehicle development. Governed by strict regulations, the anticipated integration of remotely piloted planes promises greater efficiencies related to time, cost and access. Once certified for commercial use, advanced aircraft automation will allow operators to meet rising cargo demands and eventually offer more convenient flight options for passengers.
By expanding the use of small regional airports in underserved markets, major carriers will be able to open new routes and improve delivery speeds. Without reliance on local crew availability, flight turnarounds will be faster. Pilots will no longer be limited to flying specific types of aircraft, the same routes or only one to two flights a day. Geographically distributed control centers will enable constant operation across time zones, giving remote operators the ability to fly more frequently than traditional airlines.
“The demonstration from our control center highlights how our system incorporates the best of both — advanced automation and people — to improve aircraft operations,” said Robert Rose, Co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics. “When this technology becomes commonplace, we’re going to see a far safer and more productive National Airspace System for all participants.”
To bring remotely piloted aircraft to the market as soon as possible, Reliable Robotics plans to more than double in size over the next year. The company has already assembled a team of industry experts and continues to search for top engineering talent by embracing remote hiring and distributed collaboration. Their accomplishments were recently selected as a finalist for the 2020 Collier Trophy award for the greatest achievements in aeronautics or astronautics in the United States. Ambitious experimental and certification flight tests in 2021 include flying between airports and remote operation across state lines.
The future of flight in Canada took a major step forward today with the launch of the Vancouver-based Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), a multi-stakeholder group that will streamline research, development and commercial operations in the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) sector, globally recognized as the next frontier of commercial aviation.
AAM involves the use of zero-emission, electric or hydrogen fuel cells, and vertical takeoff aircraft to provide transportation, emergency and supply chain services for urban and rural communities.
Among the many benefits of these aircraft are greater manoeuverability, less need for ground infrastructure (airport runways), less aircraft noise, reduced fossil fuel consumption, lower costs, shorter travel times and improved safety.
Initiated and created by Canadian Air Mobility and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), there are currently more than twenty partners involved in the national effort. CAAM’s key members include TransLink, Helijet International, British Columbia Institute of Technology, the University of British Columbia, Bell Textron, Iskwew Air, and many of Canada’s leading aerospace stakeholders.
“We’ve established an outstanding group of strategic members to support the design, integration, and implementation of Advanced Air Mobility in Canada,” said JR Hammond, Founder and CEO, Canadian Air Mobility and Executive Director, CAAM.
“We look forward to demonstrating the economic viability, environmental benefits and social inclusivity factors of this technology and making Canada a world leader in AAM. To that end, we welcome additional members who share our vision that AAM provides the path toward a safer, healthier, and more efficient mode of transportation.”
In addition to providing transportation within urban and rural areas, AAM aircraft will play a critical life-saving role in emergency response situations by enabling faster air transportation of medical supplies, blood, donor organs, or patients to and from hospitals.
It will also improve the emergency response and assessment of natural disasters such as floods and wildfires.
Factors making the Greater Vancouver Area a promising AAM market include: a strong aviation infrastructure base; an existing scheduled helicopter service, with heliports in Vancouver and nearby Victoria and Nanaimo; numerous science and transportation research facilities; the Province of British Columbia and City of Vancouver’s commitment to the decarbonization of transportation; and the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia corridor (Vancouver-Seattle-Portland), as one of the busiest routes for the movement of goods and people between Canada and the United States.
Among CAAM’s objectives are to create an AAM innovation hub to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow their technology from a low technology readiness level (TRL) to certification and commercialization, while also expanding the AAM sector’s connections to regulators, manufacturers, aviation operators, infrastructure developers, academia, industry, and governments in Canada and internationally.
“The National Research Council of Canada is proud to be a part of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility (caam) consortium since the start,” said Dr. Ibrahim Yimer, the NRC’s Vice-President of Transportation and Manufacturing.
“We look forward to working with our 20 partners who are lending their expertise in the Advanced Air Mobility industry to decarbonize transportation, and create more efficient ways of moving people, goods and services and support more socially connected and integrated communities.”
The future of the new era in aviation means faster medevac services, upwards of 4.2 million AAM travellers over the next 20 years, travelling between downtown Seattle and downtown Vancouver in one hour versus three, expanding connections in remote communities and more importantly, creating new jobs.
Reliable Robotics Makes Aviation History with First Flights of Autonomous Passenger Airplanes Over Populated RegionsRead Now
Reliable Robotics, a leader in bringing autonomous capability to airplanes, today announced that they have achieved historic firsts for global commercial aviation by completing successful test flights of remote-piloted passenger airplanes in United States airspace. In the first flight, the pilot pressed a button on a remote user interface and the unmanned four passenger Cessna 172 Skyhawk (C172) automatically taxied, took off, and landed. Most recently, the company demonstrated fully automated remote landing of an even larger aircraft, the Cessna 208 Caravan (C208), capable of carrying 14 passengers.
“Automated aircraft are going to fundamentally shift the entire airline business, and Reliable Robotics is well positioned to be a key player in this new market. The progress their team has demonstrated in a short amount of time is very impressive,” said David Neeleman, Founder of five commercial airlines including JetBlue Airways.
Reliable Robotics seamlessly integrated its autonomous platform onto the 2,550 pound C172. They began the C172 program in January 2018 and completed fully automated gate-to-gate operation before the end of that year. Extensive system safety analysis and testing was conducted prior to the unmanned test flight in September 2019. This marked the first time a privately funded company operated a passenger airplane of this type with no pilot on board over a populated region, and was an important step in certifying the autonomous platform for repeated, safe civil use on certified aircraft.
“We spent the first portion of our flight test program focused on the C172. We thoroughly tested every aspect of our system in simulation and conducted rigorous safety checks before operating the aircraft without a pilot on board and are now proud to share what we’ve been working on,” said Robert Rose, Co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics. “By bringing advanced automation to aviation, we will deliver higher safety, reliability and convenience for cargo operators and eventually for passengers.”
The company designed and built a proprietary autonomous platform that can be applied to any fixed-wing aircraft. The platform includes avionics, software, mechanisms, a communications system, remote control interfaces, along with a backup system that has the capability to take over if needed. Following the C172 program, it was adapted for use on the larger C208. Reliable Robotics is now working with the FAA on incrementally bringing this technology to market, having already demonstrated automated landing on the C208 last month.
“Reliable Robotics has assembled a proven team with deep experience across aviation, aerospace, self driving cars, medical devices and robotics. I’m excited to see them achieve milestones methodically while prioritizing safety, and navigating a complex regulatory environment,” said Eclipse Ventures Partner Greg Reichow, formerly VP of Manufacturing at Tesla, Inc.
Reliable Robotics was founded in 2017 by engineers who believe aircraft should fly themselves. The leadership team includes Co-founder and CEO Robert Rose who led flight software at SpaceX and the Autopilot program at Tesla, launching the Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon spacecraft and the first consumer automobile with fully unassisted self-driving capability. Co-founder and VP of Engineering Juerg Frefel led the team developing the compute platform for the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft. Other senior members of the team have played key roles in the development of the Boeing 787, Airbus A380 and other major commercial aircraft and avionics systems.
The company has raised $33.5 million in two rounds of funding led by Lightspeed Ventures and Eclipse Ventures respectively; Pathbreaker Ventures, and Teamworthy Ventures also participated. The funding is being used to build components of the remote hardware and software needed to retrofit aircraft and to continue hiring top aerospace and engineering talent.
Boeing has introduced its newest unmanned platform, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. Designed for global defense customers by Boeing Australia, it is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. The aircraft will complement and extend airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft.
A model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow by the Australian Minister for Defence, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP. As a research and development activity, the Australian Government and Boeing will produce a concept demonstrator called the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program that will provide key learnings toward the production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.
“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will:
-- Provide fighter-like performance, measuring 11.7 metres long and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles
-- Integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare
-- Use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.
“This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International. “The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defense, and our customers – led by Australia – effectively become partners on the program with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce.”
The aircraft’s first flight is planned for 2020.
U.S. Army pilots exercised supervised autonomy to direct an optionally-piloted helicopter (OPV) through a series of missions, to demonstrate technology developed by Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The series of flights marked the first time that non-Sikorsky pilots operated the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter, as an OPV aircraft.
"Future vertical lift aircraft will require robust autonomous and optimally-piloted systems to complete missions and improve safety," said Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations. "We could not be more thrilled to welcome Army aviators to the cockpit to experience first-hand the reliability of optimally-piloted technology developed by the innovative engineers at Sikorsky and DARPA. These aviators experienced the same technology that we are installing and testing on a Black Hawk that will take its first flight over the next several months."
SARA, which has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight, successfully demonstrated the advanced capabilities developed as part of the third phase of DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme. The aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground. Sikorsky's MATRIX Technology autonomous software and hardware, which is installed on SARA, executed various scenarios including:
Automated Take Off and Landing: The helicopter autonomously executed take-off, traveled to its destination, and autonomously landed
Obstacle Avoidance: The helicopter's LIDAR and cameras enabled it to detect and avoid unknown objects such as wires, towers and moving vehicles
Automatic Landing Zone Selection: The helicopter's LIDAR sensors determined a safe landing zone
Contour Flight: The helicopter flew low to the ground and behind trees
The recent Mission Software Flight Demonstration was a collaboration with the U.S. Army's Aviation Development Directorate, Sikorsky and DARPA. The Army and DARPA are working with Sikorsky to improve and expand ALIAS capabilities developed as a tailorable autonomy kit for installation in both fixed wing airplanes and helicopters.
Over the next few months, Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk equipped with ALIAS. The company is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify ALIAS/MATRIX technology so that it will be available on current and future commercial and military aircraft.
"We're demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly," said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center. "We're confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)."
Through the DARPA ALIAS program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy that will give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program will improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.
Via PR Newswire / Lockheed Martin
Boeing will build the U.S. Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft, the MQ-25 aerial refueller, through an $805 million contract awarded on August 30.
Boeing was awarded the engineering and manufacturing development contract to provide four aircraft. The company plans to perform the MQ-25 work in St. Louis.
“As a company, we have made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the U.S. Navy’s refueling requirements,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “The fact that we’re already preparing for first flight is thanks to an outstanding team who understands the Navy and their need to have this important asset on carrier decks around the world.”
MQ-25 is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with a much-needed refueling capability. According to the U.S. Navy, the MQ-25 Stingray will allow for better use of combat strike fighters by extending the range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C aircraft. MQ-25 will also seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems.
Boeing has been providing carrier aircraft to the U.S. Navy for more than 90 years.