Xwing and Bell complete first Autonomous Pod Transport flight

Bell Autonomous Pod Transport

Xwing and Bell Textron Inc. on Wednesday announced the successful demonstration of the Bell Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 as part of their ongoing partnership through NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration into the National Airspace System (UAS NAS) project. Combining its detect-and-avoid hardware and software stack with Bell’s APT 70 vehicle, the demonstration showcases the success of Xwing’s integration capabilities in enabling unmanned flight.

Xwing’s detect and avoid system is the key to safely integrating unmanned aerial vehicles in the airspace. The DAA system consists of cameras, radar, ADS-B, and all the supporting computing. The technology provides situational awareness for the ground pilot or can be coupled with the flight control system for automated avoidance. This enables unmanned vehicles to fly without ground observers by paving the way for beyond visual line of sight flight. Integrating Xwing’s detect and avoid technology within Bell’s vehicle, the APT 70, marks the first time that the unmanned vehicle was authorized to fly into controlled airspace. A portion of the flight occurred in Class B airspace, which surrounds major airports and requires authorization and coordination with air traffic control.

“We’re thrilled to be working among industry leaders such as Bell and NASA in our joint pursuit to make unmanned aircraft a reality,” said Marc Piette, CEO and founder of Xwing. “This demonstration paves the way for the future of aviation by bringing us one step closer to commercial unmanned flight.”

With the completion of this demonstration, Xwing’s DAA technology has now successfully been integrated into a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, a Bell helicopter as part of the NASA program, and Bell’s APT 70 vehicle, showcasing the ability for Xwing’s technology to be integrated into a variety of vehicles that can be used to transport goods safely, efficiently and affordably, across distances ranging from a few miles to hundreds of miles. The APT 70 is envisioned to transport payloads up to 70lbs and can be used for medical deliveries, third-party logistics, offshore delivery, humanitarian relief, and more.

In 2018, NASA selected a group of aviation industry experts to participate in their Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) activity with an objective to conduct Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flights in the National Airspace System (NAS). Held back by legacy obstacles that stifled the development, integration, and certification of unmanned aircraft and avionics, UAS flights had not been a possibility, until now.

The goal of NASA’s UAS-NAS project’s SIO activity is to work toward enabling commercial UAS operations. In order to achieve this, companies must undergo rigorous approval processes that require an abundance of data proving that commercial UAS operations are both safe and feasible. In its recent demonstration, Bell exhibited its ability to fly under similar commercial flight conditions by successfully executing a simulated Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) mission in an urban environment. Bell’s demonstration of its APT 70 finalizes a series of UAS flight demonstrations this year and marks a major milestone for commercial autonomous flight.

“Xwing’s detect and avoid technology allows the aircraft to see and act upon what’s around it,” said Xwing CTO, Maxime Gariel. “This has never been done before and is one of the major barriers Xwing has solved for in order to bring fully autonomous flight to market.”

This past August, after years of development and countless test flights, Xwing completed the world’s first fully autonomous air cargo flight at its hangar in Concord, CA. Xwing is working closely with the FAA to obtain certification for its unmanned Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft.