Airbus has enhanced the capabilities of its Flightlab helicopter by incorporating autonomous features through a project codenamed Vertex.

These technologies are intended to reduce the workload of the helicopter pilot, simplify mission preparation and management, as well as further enhance safety.

Vertex is managed by Airbus subsidiary Airbus UpNext.

The autonomous technology being integrated with Flightlab includes vision-based sensors and algorithms to enhance situational awareness and obstacle detection, fly-by-wire for auto-pilot enhancement and an advanced human-machine interface via a touchscreen and head-worn display for in-flight monitoring and control.

Integration of these technologies will allow in managing navigation and route preparation, automatic take-off and landing, and sticking to a predefined flight path.

The combination of these technologies onto the Flightlab helicopter has proceeded ahead of a full demonstration next year.

Airbus chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini said: “We are excited by the potential that the Vertex demonstrator project has to offer.

“By using our platform-agnostic flying laboratory to mature these technologies, we have an agile and efficient testbed that will support the development of future autonomous systems that could later equip Airbus’ current helicopter range and (e)VTOL platforms.”

The platform-agnostic Flightlab is based on the company’s H130 chopper, which serves as a testbed for technologies to enhance flight safety and operability.

These technologies include computer vision systems, rotor collision alert systems, and advanced backup propulsion systems.

During flight tests that began in April 2020, the demonstrator was used to measure helicopter sound levels in urban areas and particularly study how buildings may affect people’s perception.