Flying robot taxi takes first autonomous flight


In January of this year, the Air Mule took its first flight: a short, wobbly hop from the side of a parking lot to a space a modest distance away.

This week, Air Mule makers Urban Aeronautics announced two major feats for the Air Mule program.

The first is a new name: Cormorant, after the family of coastal birds. The second is a full, autonomous flight on a preplanned route.

According to Urban Aeronautics, the vehicle’s Flight Control System made the decision to land too early on first trial.

Decisions by the flight controls are checked by the craft’s flight management system, like a pilot overseen by a captain.

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These decisions are all informed by an array of sensors, including “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.

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.


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