Honeywell has begun in-flight testing using sensor technology that will help urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles land without pilot intervention.

Testing of these sensors will gather data and refine their capabilities to support future autonomous landing capabilities. Data collection was compiled in Arizona using Honeywell’s AS350 helicopter, and additional testing is planned in collaboration with Honeywell’s partners.

Any aircraft involved will be outfitted with Honeywell sensors and include cameras that analyse visual markings resembling QR codes, which help guide the vehicle to a designated landing spot.

This work will continue for the rest of the year, with a demonstration of fully automated landings set to be scheduled within the next 12 months.

Matt Picchetti, Vice president and General manager, Navigation and Sensors, at Honeywell Aerospace, said: “Introducing numerous piloted and autonomous aircraft in dense urban environments is a real challenge in making the urban air mobility vision achievable.

“Navigation is a key part of Honeywell’s heritage, from the industry’s first autopilot to the opportunities we see today in urban air mobility. We are drawing on this expertise and our problem-solving capabilities to lead the way in identifying and bringing to market the most effective technologies to support safer, and increasingly autonomous, urban air mobility operations.”

This milestone represents important progress towards the goal of achieving cleaner, safer and smarter aircraft. Honeywell adds that this is a key first step for the future of flight, as it adds sensors which support safer, autonomous urban air mobility operations.

As testing and data collection move from proof-of-concept prototypes to reality, the company say there are many benefits to improving navigation and implementing features such as automatic landing.

With more automatic features and processes, pilot workloads will ease and critical manoeuvres during intense phases of flight will become easier and safer.

Operations may also benefit from the strategic use of autonomous landing, making vehicle throughput more predictable and reducing turnaround time. Passengers ultimately can benefit from the improved reliability, safety and comfort of smoother autonomous landing practices along with more reliable transportation schedules.

Honeywell offers certification expertise as well as hardware and software technologies to support the UAM space, including its next-generation AHRS (attitude and heading reference systems), compact fly-by-wire system, RDR-84K radar and hybrid-electric turbo generators.