A project is underway to develop the first electric self-piloted vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) passenger aircraft with the help of LiDAR technology. Airbus’ Silicon Valley outpost, A3, is using Near Earth Autonomy landing zone assessment technology for the venture, named Vahana.

“The partnership with A3 is an exciting opportunity to support the advancement of intelligent, autonomous flight,” says Sanjiv Singh, CEO of Near Earth Autonomy. “Our engineering team has years of experience working with government agencies and commercial partners on landing zone assessment for unmanned aerial vehicles. We are thrilled to deploy our proven technologies to support Vahana’s mission to transform urban air mobility."

The development of a fully autonomous aircraft requires technical capabilities including mature obstacle detection and avoidance for takeoff and landing. The sensor payload developed by Near Earth Autonomy creates a 3D representation of the landing environment using laser scanning and inertial measurement. During descent, the representation is used to assess the landing site by an onboard computer. The assessment verifies that the designated landing site is safe, away from obstructions or hazardous terrain. If necessary, it provides alternate locations to ensure safe touchdown.

Vahana and Near Earth Autonomy completed a series of acceptance flights in June to meet the goal of flying a full- size prototype before the end of 2017.

“At Vahana we’re focused on efficiently developing our aircraft by leveraging capable partners who can meet our rigorous timelines,” says Zach Lovering, project executive with Vahana. “These partnerships are essential to many aspects of our aircraft, including our sense-and-avoid system. To that end, we have adopted Near Earth Autonomy’s landing zone assessment technology for use on our aircraft.”

About Near Earth Autonomy
Near Earth Autonomy aims to create a future where autonomous aircraft are commonplace and safe. Its technology enables aircraft ranging in scale from sub-meter to full scale to autonomously inspect, map, survey and transport. The company works on applications in infrastructure, maintenance, agriculture, mining, emergency response and cargo delivery. Near Earth is a privately held, spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University.