After more than a century of powered aviation the navigation, guidance and control of aircraft is still a very manual affair, with many functions relying directly on the human pilot. This presents a technical hurdle to expanding the economic applications of flight. Today flying is very safe -- as long as you fly commercial and in non-saturated air spaces. General aviation's safety level will have to increase, and a denser use of air space (e.g. by electric flight and urban mobility) can only be enabled if the bottle-neck of safety level with human(s) in the loop is removed. Alongside with safety, the long-term trend of growing demand and cost reduction requires new levels of automation and automony and is the industry's next growth step. Replacing the human with modern robotic systems is a crucial enabler for growth of the existing aviation market and for emergence of whole new markets in affordable air mobility.
Safety is tightly regulated in aviation and rightly so because it has made flying one of the safer means of transportation. Yet these regulations and the built-in desire for proven solutions also present a barrier to the adoption of new technology. There is no incremental path from uncertified UAV control to certification for personal transport (DAL-A), nor one from current DAL-A level avionics to full autonomy. To justify the absence of a human pilot we need to build a system that is sufficiently deterministic to pass certification, yet can deal with unexpected situations.
Relying on our expertise in robotics, computer vision and machine learning, as well as a thorough foundation in classical systems engineering, avionics and piloting, we have set out to build guidance navigation and control systems that replace and outperform the human pilot on every measurable scale. To autonomously fly in VFR, without relying on extra rules or infrastructure, requires that navigation, guidance and collision avoidance are able to use visual information first and last, alongside other instruments currently available in the cockpit. Our visual systems provide situational awareness and semantic understanding to safely guide any aircraft from take-off to landing.