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Researchers at a NASA Research Center conducted a successful test in which they released several drones and let them fly unobserved to see if they could properly avoid hitting obstacles and each other while sticking to the planned route. The success of this test marks an important step towards advancing self-flying capabilities for air taxis.

Lou Glaab, head of the aeronautics systems engineering branch states: “Flying the vehicles beyond visual line of sight, where neither the vehicle nor the airspace is monitored using direct human observation, demonstrates years of research into automation and safety systems, and required specific approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA to complete.”

According to Techxplore, the most cost-effective and safe way to test self-flying technology meant for larger, passenger-carrying air taxis is to apply it on smaller drones to observe how they avoid each other and other obstacles. NASA also is reportedly testing elements of automation technology using helicopters.

The software that was applied to the small drones performed airspace communications, flight path management, avoidance with other vehicles, and more skills needed to operate in busy airspace, which is imperative for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) where drones and air taxis will be operating at the same time on a routine basis.

NASA will ensure this new technology is available to the public so industry manufacturers can access the software while designing their vehicles.

Jake Schaefer who leads flight operations for the project explains: “NASA’s ability to transfer these technologies will significantly benefit the industry. By conducting flight tests within the national airspace, in close proximity to airports and an urban environment, we are able to test technologies and procedures in a controlled but relevant environment for future AAM vehicles.”