Goodbye, robo-cars. Hello, robo-planes!
Reliable Robotics, the 2017 startup developing autonomous flight technologies headed by former Tesla and SpaceX software engineers, hit another aviation milestone when the company completed a successful remote-piloted test flight of the passenger airplane, Cessna 208 Caravan (C208) over a populated area last month.
The 14 passenger aircraft owned by FedEx is larger than the 4-seat, single-engine airplane, C172 Skyhawk, which took off and landed in September 2019.
Beginning in January 2018, the C172 program was able to conduct their unmanned test flight less than 2 years from when they started. Designed and built to fit any fixed-wing aircraft, the company’s proprietary autonomous platform includes avionics, software, mechanisms, a communications system, remote command interfaces, and a backup system that has the capability for a pilot to take over if needed.
Following their 2019 success, the company later used the platform on the larger C208 with repeated triumph. They are now working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on marketing their technology.
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways and four other commercial airlines, said, “Automated aircraft are going to fundamentally shift the entire airline business, and Reliable Robotics is well-positioned to be a key player in this new market. The progress their team has demonstrated in a short amount of time is very impressive.”
With $33.5 million in venture capital funding raised in two funding rounds, Reliable Robotics is indeed well-equipped to make more aviation firsts. The company plans to scale the 35-person startup by bringing in new aerospace and engineering talent. By building their own remote hardware and software, this will allow them to transform the future of aviation.
“Reliable Robotics has assembled a proven team with deep experience across aviation, aerospace, self driving cars, medical devices and robotics. I’m excited to see them achieve milestones methodically while prioritizing safety, and navigating a complex regulatory environment,” said Eclipse Ventures Partner Greg Reichow, formerly VP of Manufacturing at Tesla, Inc.
According to the company’s website, “Advanced automation will make aircraft safer, more reliable, more affordable and fundamentally transformative to the way goods and people move around the planet.”
Only time will tell if pilotless passenger planes will transform the future of aviation.