Airbus is testing technological support tools aimed at enabling automatic taxiing, by modifying an electric vehicle to serve as an A350 cockpit.

The project – known as Optimate – is being undertaken through the airframer’s innovation arm, UpNext, and will span three years.

Airbus intends the project to include a demonstration of automated taxiing using an A350-1000 test aircraft in the fourth quarter of this year.

But the primary validation work will use the electric truck in order to reduce carbon emission, as well as keep the airframer’s test pilots free for other duties including certification work and aircraft deliveries.

The vehicle will act as a “cockpit on wheels” and “replicates the key functions of a real aircraft”, says Airbus.

Taxiing automation will be supported by sourcing data from lidar – laser-based ranging technology – and cameras, as well as GPS and inertial sensors, for position determination.

UpNext Optimate A350-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Navigation technologies including quantum-based sensing will be explored during the taxiing trials

Airbus says that part of the project will involve examining quantum-based sensors to explore the potential to derive more accurate position and navigation information.

Quantum sensors use analysis of atomic states to detect the effect of inertial changes.

“Another objective is to investigate the capabilities of a collaborative map and virtual flight assistant to support pilots’ strategic decisions, and interactions with air traffic control and airline operations centres,” says Airbus.

It adds that communications will be carried over satellite-based and 5G networks.

The rear of the truck has a flight-test installation enabling engineers to monitor the systems’ performance.

UpNext Optimate truck-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Optimate’s electric vehicle will serve as a cockpit-on-wheels

“Our ambition is to use the best technologies to make our aircraft even more aware of their operating conditions, analysing it in as much detail as possible to become smart and reliable assistants to pilots,” says UpNext chief Michael Augello.

While the truck has been carrying out trials at Toulouse, Airbus hopes to use it at other airports.

Optimate will build on functions tested through previous autonomous-flight programmes such as Vertex project, for helicopters, and the ATTOL initiative, which focused on taxi, take-off and landing.