55 King Air aircraft to offer fully autonomous flights, from takeoff to landing. It’s the proposal of Merlin Labs, a Boston-based startup that recently raised $ 25 million in a funding round led by Google Ventures and First Round Capital.
Merlin Labs has partnered with Dynamic Aviation to try to achieve its goal of creating a fleet of autonomous aircraft, without human pilots and capable of transporting passengers. The company, however, does not build airplanes or drones, but rather focuses on artificial intelligence.
His work consists of an evolution of the autopilots, to offer an autonomous driving system in aircraft. A job that they have already tried in “hundreds of missions” and have managed to attract the interest of Google.
In search of the first autonomous flight system for large aircraft
Merlin Labs wants to create the first autonomous flight system for large, fixed-wing aircraft. A system that complies with aviation regulations. They are still a long way from reaching this point at the moment, but the startup reports that it has conducted multiple aircraft tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Specifically, they have installed their platform on four different planes, from single-engine planes to planes with several of them.
Despite the long history of autopilots, autonomous aviation is a relatively new and growing field. In July 2019, the Technical University of Munich completed the first landing completely autonomously. A year later, in August 2020, an Airbus A350 took off and landed autonomously. Now it is the company Merlin Labs who wants to offer this possibility to other companies through its “automatic pilot” with an advanced level of autonomous driving.
Merlin Labs researchers use data generated by human pilots to build flight simulations with their AI system. As they describe, they have already incorporated “thousands of flight hours.”
It is now that they have teamed up with Dynamic Aviation, owners of the largest private fleet of King Air aircraft, to implement their autonomous aviation system. “We are proud to partner with Dynamic to begin the process of bringing autonomous flight from laboratory to market,” explains Matthew George, CEO of Merlin Labs
“Our immediate goal is to allow an aircraft to make its own decisions, with a pilot maintaining his presence for monitoring purposes,” explains the company. In the long term, Merlin’s idea is to allow flights without any human pilot on board.