ERAU Students Test Reliable Robotics’ Remote-pilot Tech

 - April 24, 2023, 11:27 AM
Reliable Robotics is working toward FAA certification of its autonomous flight control system on a Cessna 208 Caravan. (Photo: Reliable Robotics)

Students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Prescott, Arizona, had the opportunity to test out Reliable Robotics’ voice communication system for remotely piloted, highly autonomous aircraft.

Researchers with Reliable Robotics visited ERAU's Air Traffic Control (ATC) laboratory earlier this month to demonstrate the company’s autonomous flight and remote piloting capabilities using the university’s virtual simulators. During the demonstration, students took on roles of remote pilots and air traffic controllers to simulate communications in busy airspace.

“People were flying from point A to point B, finishing their climb or starting their descent, but mostly everyone was just at cruise until the tower gave clearance to land,” said Carol Martin, a graduate of Embry-Riddle’s aeronautical science program who volunteered to participate in the simulations while working to earn her aircraft dispatcher certificate. “I learned more about technology development and the value of rigorous testing as I was exposed to the specific challenges Reliable Robotics is working to solve.”

Mountain View, California company Reliable Robotics is working to certify an autonomous flight control system that can be installed on existing, legacy aircraft to make them capable of remotely piloted operations. Aircraft equipped with Reliable Robotics’ autopilot technology can taxi, take off, and land without any pilot intervention, and have high-precision navigation capabilities. The tech startup said it is on track to obtain its first supplemental type certificate, covering the conversion of Cessna Grand Caravan utility aircraft, in the second half of this year. 

For now, all flight tests conducted by Reliable Robotics have safety pilots on board to monitor the remote-piloting operations and take control of the aircraft if necessary. The company also holds a Part 135 certificate and has been using the cargo operations to collect data that is helping to refine its autopilot technology.

One of the biggest challenges for companies developing remotely-piloted aircraft technologies will be figuring out how to safely integrate large uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) into a National Airspace System that has so far only dealt with aircraft with pilots on board. Reliable Robotics—as well as competitors such as Xwing and Merlin—have been working closely with the FAA and NASA to integrate autonomous and remotely-piloted operations with the existing ATC infrastructure. 

Reliable Robotics chose to test its voice communication system at the university’s lab because it’s “one of the few facilities in the nation that have such a robust ATC simulation environment,” said Chad Healy, senior human factors engineer at Reliable Robotics. “We are very thankful that Embry-Riddle provided us with quick access to highly trained air traffic students. Students could see the end-to-end operations from the air traffic side as well as the pilot side. They provided great feedback throughout the test campaign, and we collected valuable data that will help us refine our system.”