Airbus unveils its “flying truck” to automate the taxiing of planes

Airbus unveils its “flying truck” to automate the taxiing of planes
Airbus unveils its “flying truck” to automate the taxiing of planes

Paris (awp/afp) – A truck equipped with an A350 plane cockpit, plus a steering wheel: Airbus unveiled its project on Wednesday intended to test the automated taxiing of planes on the tarmacs of increasingly congested airports, at the show VivaTech in Paris.

The Optimate truck makes it possible to test technologies which will then be used on board aircraft with the aim of assisting pilots and improving safety during the “critical” “taxi” phase, i.e. taxiing before the takeoff and after landing.

This is to avoid clashes and collisions while “there is more and more congestion” at airports. And this is not going to get better with the expected doubling of the number of passengers within 20 years, explains Matthieu Gallas, head of automation research at Airbus, to AFP.

These technologies appeared in the automotive and telecommunications fields and were adapted to the aeronautics sector, he adds.

This involves precisely calculating the position of the machine on the ground and cladding it with radar and lidar sensors (laser detection).

It also involves studying the development of “a collaborative map and a virtual flight assistant to help pilots make decisions (…) and interact with air traffic control and flight centers.” ‘airline operations’, according to Airbus.

“We are not going to fly, but everything is done as if,” comments to AFP during the demonstration Jonathan Rigaud, pilot at Airbus UpNext, a subsidiary of the European aircraft manufacturer specializing in disruptive technologies which developed Optimate .

The result of three years of research and launched six months ago, Optimate has been tested for two months in Toulouse, the aircraft manufacturer’s headquarters. After testing with the truck, these technologies will be tested on board an A350 test plane in 2026 during automated taxiing on tarmacs.

The truck’s base, a platform with electric motors, was manufactured by Israeli company REE.

Among the technologies developed is “computer vision” thanks to which “the plane will see where humans cannot see”, explains Jonathan Rigaud.

The system must also make it possible to determine the best path to reach the runway or the terminal. “This will give a prediction based on artificial intelligence, when to leave to avoid traffic or use the minimum amount of fuel,” underlines Jonathan Rigaud.

Catherine Jestin, digital boss at Airbus, describes the project as “revolutionary”, but prefers to speak of “augmented” intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.

If automation is the ultimate goal of the project, “we are very far from an unmanned aircraft,” insists Matthieu Gallas.

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