Many companies build unmanned flying vehicles from scratch, but starting autonomous aviation Xwing takes a different approach by focusing on software for existing aircraft. Today, the company says it has taken a significant step forward by delivering the first fully autonomous door-to-door demonstration of a commercial cargo flight. The breakthrough saw a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B unmanned utility aircraft (equipped with the startup’s AutoFlight software stack) exit the door, taxi, take off, land, and return to the door on its own. Xwing says all traffic control interactions were done remotely from the ground.
The start-up believes that by upgrading existing aircraft with its autonomous system, it can reach the market sooner by overcoming regulatory and technical hurdles others face. Its AutoFlight software uses a mixture of radar, satellite navigation (known as ADSB), optical cameras, and lidar to detect and avoid other aircraft and obstacles. Going forward, it predicts that a single ground controller will monitor multiple flights using a simple point-and-click mechanism, the company said. Forbes Last year.
But Xwing isn’t the only startup betting on an autonomous aviation future. Reliable Robotics, founded in 2017 by former engineers from SpaceX and Tesla, also completed a series of remotely piloted cargo flights. The two companies are looking to cut costs for an aviation industry struggling with falling sales and job layoffs due to the pandemic. Garmin, meanwhile, received the green light from regulators for its automatic landing tech last year.
For now, Xwing hopes the focus on cargo flights will also help it forge ties with e-commerce and delivery companies that depend on air cargo to deliver goods around the world. Amazon, for example, recently extended its airline fleet by acquiring 11 Boeing 767-300s. The online shopping giant has also received clearance from regulators to begin its first commercial drone delivery trials in the USA. While FedEx already uses Cessna’s Caravan aircraft as part of its airline network.