European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has successfully tested its autonomous technologies onboard its FlightLab helicopter, controlled via a touchscreen tablet.

The technologies tested on Project Vertex were developed by Airbus’ UpNext division, its technology research branch. The new test focused on its new human-machine interface (HMI).

The test flight was controlled through a simple touchscreen tablet application and followed a pre-set route.

“The Airbus Helicopters’ FlightLab flew fully automated from lift-off, taxi, takeoff, cruise, approach and then landing during a one hour test flight,” the manufacturer said.

According to Airbus, advancements under this mission will ensure reduced helicopter pilot workloads, an increase in safety and simplifications of missions and preparations.

Additional features of the autonomous technology onboard the FlightLab include vision-based sensors, fly-by-wire for autopilot and algorithms.

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The flight test period spanned from 27 October 2023 to 22 November 2023 at Airbus’ Marignane helicopter facility.

Michael Augello, CEO of Airbus UpNext emphasised the next steps for the HMI system.

Augello said: “This successful demonstration of a fully autonomous flight from takeoff to landing is a great step towards the reduced pilot workload and simplified HMI that the Airbus Urban Air Mobility team intends to implement on CityAirbus NextGen.

“It could also have immediate applications for helicopters in low-level flights close to obstacles thanks to the information provided by the lidars* on board”.

During the test flight, pilots onboard monitored the HMI, which had been developed to identify unexpected obstructions and could override controls through the use of the tablet.