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An Airbus plane has successfully taken off using autonomous technology powered by computer vision systems, marking another step toward self-piloting flights.

The company announced the tests today, but the flights actually occurred on December 18, 2019. The test crew included two pilots, two flight engineers, and a test flight engineer. The crew staged eight takeoffs during a four-hour period.

Typically, a plane communicates with an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which relies on radio waves broadcast across the runway to guide the pilot during the takeoff process. Traditional airport infrastructure is required to initiate the flight.

In this case, the aeronautics giant installed an image recognition system in the aircraft to allow it to take off without a pilot operating the controls or any need to communicate with the runway system.

“The aircraft performed as expected during these milestone tests,” said Airbus test pilot captain Yann Beaufils in a statement. “While completing alignment on the runway, waiting for clearance from air traffic control, we engaged the autopilot. We moved the throttle levers to the takeoff setting, and we monitored the aircraft. It started to move and accelerate automatically, maintaining the runway center line, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected takeoff pitch value, and a few seconds later we were airborn.”

The company has been investing in various autonomous flying projects. In 2018, Airbus tested Vahana, an autonomous electric flying taxi being developed by its Silicon Valley-based A³ lab. The previous year, it unveiled Pop.Up, a modular transportation system that uses a drone to lift the passenger capsule of an autonomous vehicle into the air and fly it to its destination.

Airbus said the automatic takeoff test is an another milestone for these broader efforts, dubbed the Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off & Landing (ATTOL) project. The company is using these tests to examine how such systems impact the overall vehicle.

The company said it will conduct test flights of automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences later this year.


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