Airbus Helicopters developing autonomous landing system

Airbus Helicopters has revealed details of a new image processing system it is developing that is able to detect a helipad and autonomously guide the helicopter to landing.

Airbus Helicopters' in-development Eagle system can track the H marking on a helipad. Airbus Helicopters' Photo
Airbus Helicopters’ in-development Eagle system can track the H marking on a helipad. Airbus Helicopters’ Photo
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One step beyond the Rig’N Fly system that significantly reduces pilot workload in oil-and-gas rig approaches, the Eagle system has been undergoing ground tests since May, and the first flight of it on a helicopter is planned for next week.

The system could enter into service on existing rotorcraft by the end of the decade, according to Tomasz Krysinski, Airbus Helicopters’ head of research and innovation.

Dubbed Eagle — short for “eye for autonomous guidance and landing extension” — the system can spot the “H” marking on a helipad. It uses a gimbaled camera unit and another two cameras on the helicopter to create a stabilized high-definition image. The H marking is then tracked.

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A video processing unit computes “all possible metrics” on the selected target, such as relative distance, direction and elevation, Krysinski explained. The information is shown to the crew on a conventional display. In the future, Airbus is considering using the windshield as a giant head-up display.

As the target could be static or moving, Eagle paves the way for future “sense and avoid” applications, Airbus Helicopters believes. Future versions of the Eagle system will also integrate a Lidar, thus enabling obstacle detection.

The value of the Eagle system will be in coupling it with the autopilot, Krysinski added. It is therefore considered as a “technology brick” for full autonomy in urban environments, which Airbus is aiming at with its CityAirbus quadcopter.

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