The drone market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the short, medium term. Automatic avoidance of collisions in the air is one of the key technologies on the path of development and widespread use of unmanned aircraft. With the help of such systems, drones will be able to fly safely in common airspace with manned vehicles, automatically detecting other objects in the air and changing their flight path in order to avoid collisions.
Autonomous aircraft company Xwing and helicopter maker Bell have announced the successful flight of a four-prop drone outfitted with Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies, demonstrating systems that can enable future commercial unmanned flight in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. The test flights were performed on Bell’s Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 as part of a joint flight demonstration with NASA.
During the checks, the APT 70 flew a preprogrammed 10-mile circuit path along the Trinity River. After vertically taking off, the vehicle rotated to fly on its wings, where it became nearly silent to the ground below. It executed its mission profile at an altitude of 500 feet above ground level. It also made several urban environments transitioning into and out of Class B airspace. A prototype airborne detects and avoids system, along with visual observers, provided the remote pilot with an awareness of air traffic in the vicinity and recommended flight maneuvers.
“This successful demonstration highlights the great potential for the APT 70 to complete complex missions for businesses and healthcare providers,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president, Innovation and Commercial Business. “With teammates like NASA, we can carve a path forward for future commercial operations to solve the cargo and goods transportation challenges our world currently faces.”
The APT 70 carries a 70 lb (32 kg) payload and spans 1.8 m long and 2.75 m wide. The top speed is 110 knots (204 km/h) with 35 miles (56 km) of range. Capable of moving three times as fast as ground transportation, the vehicle is capable of autonomous flight, automatically flying a programmed flight route and handling an array of contingency functions. Potential uses for the APT 70 include medical deliveries, third-party logistics, offshore delivery, humanitarian relief, and many more.