Airbus’ has unveiled its latest UpNext demonstrator, the Optimate: a three-year project to support automated taxi operations, thereby reducing flight crew workload and relieving airport congestion. This “unconventional” initiative represents a partnership between industry stakeholders, researchers and regulatory bodies including the French Civil Aviation Authorities.

Described as a “cockpit on wheels,” this fully-electric truck – equipped with an A350 virtual flight deck and ‘computer vision’ devices – will “serve as a virtual assistant to help safely and automatically guide an aircraft during taxi,” explains Airbus. With the project’s ultimate aim to “perform a highly efficient automatic -gate-to-gate mission on an Airbus commercial airliner,” its initial phase will concentrate on the taxi phase; allowing crews to “focus primarily on critical decision-making”.

During the taxi, geo-locating sensors, 4D radar and LIDAR will serve as a “virtual assistant to help safely and automatically guide and aircraft” elaborates Airbus, with the rest of the truck “kitted out with a full flight test installation to help engineers monitor the tests”. It made its first excursion at Airbus’ Toulouse flight test headquarters before subsequently performing tests at Blagnac airport’s runways. Next, the UpNext team hope to take the “flying truck” demonstrator to an international airport.

Before Optimate is set to “shift up a gear” towards the end of the year (with the demonstration of automated taxi operations on board an A350-1000 test aircraft), the truck will perform thousands of hours of tests, something its developers say will keep costs down, reduce CO2 emissions and free up test pilots to focus on aircraft deliveries.

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