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Airbus completes Auto'Mate autonomous aerial refuelling tests

Airbus demonstrated its Auto'Mate A4R autonomous aerial refuelling of drones using an A310 MRTT and DT-25 target drone UAVs during two trials in March. The test campaign has now been completed. (Airbus)

Airbus Defence and Space has completed trials of its autonomous air-to-air refuelling (AAR) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the company announced on 22 November.

Trials that were launched in March involved a modified A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft and DT-25 target drone UAVs. Designated Auto'Mate, the autonomous AAR is the first step towards Autonomous Assets Air-to-Air Refuelling (A4R) and Autonomous Formation Flight (AF2) capabilities for tankers using technologies developed by Airbus UpNext.

β€œAuto'Mate successfully completes the second and final flight-test campaign. Airbus, for the first time ever, tested the technologies for autonomous air-to-air refuelling based on controlling and guiding multiple drones from Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft,” the company said.

The Auto'Mate demonstrator technology focuses on three pillars. These are accurate relative navigation to precisely ascertain the relative position, speed, and attitudes between the tanker and the receiver; intra-flight communication between platforms to allow information exchange among the different assets, increasing the autonomy of the system of systems; and co-operative control algorithms to provide guidance, co-ordination, consensus, and collision-avoidance functionalities to the tanker and the receiver(s).

During flight tests, the unmanned receiver aircraft were sequentially controlled and commanded by artificial intelligence (AI) and co-operative control algorithms without human interaction. The different receivers were controlled and guided until a minimum distance of around 45 m from the tanker using light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and the Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors. Collision avoidance algorithms were tested in the second test campaign.

Airbus previously told Janes

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