WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Companies are increasingly scaling up drone technology and their associated energy and control systems in the new race to take passengers to the skies and back, but the Cormorant is the first to demonstrate full autonomy.
Nine years ago the AirMule was simply a concept – a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) robo-taxi that could get soldiers out of dangerous battlefields without endangering a pilot or crew. Now, nine years later the AirMule, now called the Cormorant has just completed its first fully autonomous flight – a short, wobbly hop from the side of a parking lot to a space a modest distance away.
According to Urban Aeronautics, the vehicle’s Flight Control System made the decision to land too early which is why the drone wobbled at the end of the flight. Decisions by the flight controls are checked by the craft’s flight management system, like a pilot overseen by a captain. These decisions are all informed by an array of sensors which include two laser altimeters, a radar altimeter, inertial sensors, and an electro-optic payload camera. Lots of other unmanned aircraft use some combination of these sensors, but few have the unique design of the Cormorant, which puts the rotors inside the craft in order to protect the people it’s picking up at the time. And that compact, unique design is tricky to get right.
But if Urban Aeronautics can figure it out, the result will be a robot that can fly inside cities, weaving between buildings and hovering above any dangers on the ground below, not unlike some of the concepts that Uber are working on with the likes of Airbus and Joby.