March 9, 2021

ReliableRoboticsFlightRemotePilot400x275Reliable Robotics, which is developing autonomous flight technology, announced it completed a series of remotely operated test flights directed by a pilot stationed in its Mountain View headquarters more than 50 miles away. The remote pilot instructed an upgraded Cessna 208 Caravan to taxi, takeoff, maneuver over a populated region and land, while communicating with nearby air traffic through the aircraft’s onboard radios. For the flight, a safety pilot was inside the aircraft for the test (see video).

The company said the flights mark a significant advancement for remotely piloted commercial aircraft in the U.S. “Automating a large aircraft with remote piloting infrastructure is an impressive technical achievement for commercial aviation, coming years before many in the industry expected,” said Charles Graham, former CEO for Aviation, DHL Express. “Operating from a control center increases safety margins, reduces workload and enables pilots to focus on communications and complex decision making.”

The company debuted its advanced autoflight system on a Cessna 172 in 2019, and the recent tests showcase the flexibility in its approach to fully integrate the same system with the larger Cessna Caravan. The flights also advance the company’s objective of certifying its system for use on any aircraft.

 

 

The data and experience gathered during each flight informs future engineering decisions, supports operational design within the workspace, and helps test and improve onboard control systems, Reliable Robotics said. With regulatory oversight and experimental approval to fly remotely piloted aircraft, the company said it plans incremental certification with gradually increasing autonomy.

 The system includes several features not found in today’s commercial autopilot systems, including:

  • Pilots in the loop: Control center workstations enable remote command of aircraft during all phases of flight. Remote pilots maintain situation awareness and manage the flight plan similar to an onboard pilot.
  • Upgraded aircraft: A proprietary sensing and computing platform handles fault management, in conjunction with added mechanical redundancy for continuous safe operation. Insights into each aircraft’s condition is made available to operators through a secure network.
  • Seamless operation: The modified aircraft operates in a manner indistinguishable from others in the same airspace, with no changes to infrastructure or procedures. Remote pilots verbally communicate with ground and air traffic controllers as well as other aircraft.
  • Secure systems: Command and control, voice and data links implement end-to-end encryption with authenticity and integrity checking methods, developed for safety and mission-critical applications. Reliable Robotics said this ensures all data relayed between the remote pilot and aircraft can be cryptographically verified as unaltered and original.

“Routine flight testing from our control center is essential for validating our design and developing human factors guidelines for commercial remote piloting,” said Casey Klebba, director of remote piloting at Reliable Robotics. “Equally important is our work to support and advance the certification basis for autonomous aircraft systems, so they can be operated at scale.”

The company said it plans to more than double in size over the next year in order to bring this technology to the market as soon as possible. Future test flights in 2021 include flying between airports and remote operations across state lines. More information on the company is available at its website.