Autonomous Flying Taxi Completes Mostly Successful Test Flight

An autonomous flying car test proves they’re coming, but we need to be patient.

The Cormorant VTOL aircraft. (Image courtesy of Tactical Robotics.)

The Cormorant VTOL aircraft. (Image courtesy of Tactical Robotics.)

Delivery on the promise of flying cars has been due for some time now. While I can’t pinpoint exactly when the idea of the flying car originated, it’s safe to say that it happened shortly after the first chariot was taken for its inaugural spin.

Well, it’s been a long time since chariots challenged for land speed records and constituted the most technologically advanced transportation option. Flying cars might finally be coming, with an added autonomous twist.  

Isreal’s Tactical Robotics has announced that its AirMule (now known as the Cormorant), a squat VTOL autonomous craft has completed its first autonomous flight test earlier this month.

Designed to work within the close confines of a city, ferrying cargo and civilians about, the Cormorant’s engineers have built their UAV with concealed rotors to prevent nasty injuries and rotor collisions. Given the Cormorant’s first autonomous test flight, that design decision seems to have been an excellent idea. 

According to researchers monitoring the two-minute flight test, the Cormorant struggled a bit. Although the craft was able to demonstrate its ability to stay aloft and move about without human control, it did have trouble shifting between its takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and touchdown programs. While those issues can likely be fixed by tightening up some code and improving program integration, the most troubling issues arose from the vehicle’s semi-errant sensors.

As is clearly visible in the video below, on several occasions the Cormorant’s Flight Management System (FMS) has to correct errors produced by its onboard Flight Control System (FCS). Essentially, the laser and radar altimeters, internal sensors and cameras onboard the UAV had trouble making sense of the terrain. Because of that the UAV heaved and dropped in an unnatural fashion.

Undeterred, Tactical Robots reports the test as a success, and in most way the company is right. It’s an autonomous flying vehicle that didn’t explode or crash!

Still, there’s a bit of disappointment that lingers around the test. I can’t help but be disheartened by the realization that my flying car is still off in the distant future.

For more flying car news, check out this project by Airbus.