Autonomous Pod Transport Image
Bell Textron’s Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) (Credit: Bell Textron)

Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, announced the Autonomous Pod Transport’s (APT) successful demonstration of a ground-based Detect and Avoid (DAA) flight, fulfilling an extension for its NASA Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) project. The APT DAA demonstration showcased the aircraft’s ground radar system integration and its capabilities when navigating airspace traffic and requirements, a critical component needed for future Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) vehicles.

The objective of the SIO demonstration was to execute a Beyond Visual Line of Sight mission in complex airspace utilizing DAA technology to monitor the airspace for “natural intruders” using Bell’s 429 commercial helicopter and APT unmanned aircraft. Bell’s QuantiFLYTM system, a new aircraft communication unit (ACU) powered by Truth Data, offering a true low-cost, lightweight, and fully automatic flight data monitoring (FDM) solution, was used on the Bell 429 to record aircraft telemetry data.

“We are excited to demonstrate the effectiveness of ground-based monitoring solutions as part of UAS infrastructure,” said Matt Holvey, director, Intelligent Systems, Bell. “Radar monitoring, whether airborne or ground-based, may become an important part of drone delivery, air taxi services and other aspects of the ever-expanding AAM ecosystem.”

Bell utilized radar systems to monitor the complex airspace within the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) and track manned and unmanned aircraft systems. The MIZ provides one of the most unique environments in the nation for partner organizations to test, scale and commercialize emerging technologies in air and surface mobility. Hillwood also provided multiple sites for radar set up, and testing was conducted at the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center, located approximately four miles north of Fort Worth Alliance Airport.

Along with Hillwood, Bell has collaborated with Northwest Independent School District (NISD) to provide a site for Bell to install a radar at their Outdoor Learning Center.

In addition, Microsoft provided AirSim, a simulation tool for training Autonomous systems, which gave Bell a Digital Twin environment to model the NASA SIO Extension flight in the virtual world before flying through the corridor. This allowed the team to conduct simulated real-world tests of the APT aircraft across a broad range of scenarios without any safety risks and at a fraction of the cost and time needed.

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