Autonomous ‘flying truck’ is teaching aircraft how to taxi on their own

  • Industry experts estimate that airlines will need to double their fleets across the next 20 years
  • Increased demand could put a strain on pilots, so Airbus is trialing automated taxiing for planes
  • The three year program uses cutting edge technology

Published on May 24, 2024 at 12:23 PM (UTC+4)
by Claire Reid

Last updated on May 24, 2024 at 6:31 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

As international travel becomes more accessible the need for more planes – and pilots to fly them – increases and Airbus has launched an impressive new ‘flying truck’ that could be key for helping the industry cope with demand. 

Industry experts estimate that across the next two decades, the number of planes will double to meet increased demand.

Airbus believes that to avoid overload for pilots and flight crew, three issues need to be addressed: reducing pilot workload; increasing safety with the use of automated trajectory protection; and digitally assisting collaboration between onboard flight crews and air traffic control. 

READ MORE! Incredible video of Airbus A380 takeoff appears almost unreal

In an attempt to tackle these concerns, Airbus and its research off-shoot UpNext have launched the Optimate program.

The program, which is expected to run for three years, will combine a range of cutting-edge technologies, including advanced automation, computer vision, and machine learning. 

One of Optimates’ key objectives is to develop and test automatic taxiing and to help achieve that mission, the company has introduced a ‘cockpit on wheels’ or ‘flying truck’.

The EV truck is kitted out with an A350 virtual flight deck, featuring ‘computer vision’ devices, including geo-locating sensors, 4D radar and lidar that will work as a virtual assistant to help safely and automatically guide an aircraft during taxi. 

Inside Airbus's flying truck

Meanwhile, the rear of the truck is equipped with a full flight test installation, where engineers can monitor the tests.

Sounds pretty smart, right?

The ‘flying truck’ will perform thousands of hours of tests.

It was initially used at UpNext’s headquarters near Toulouse, France, before being moved to Blagnac airport – the company then has its sights set on moving it to an international airport.

Michael Augello, CEO of Airbus UpNext, said: “We are delighted to unveil another innovative demonstrator that reflects our unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of aviation. 

“Our ambition is to use the best technologies to make our aircraft even more aware of their operating conditions, analyzing it in as much detail as possible to become smart and reliable assistants to pilots, providing them with the optimal assistance.

“We are confident that this project will contribute to safer and more efficient air travel.”

# Tags - Airbus, Airplanes, Travel


Claire Reid

Claire Reid is a journalist who hails from the UK but is now living in New Zealand. She began her career after graduating with a degree in Journalism from Liverpool John Moore’s University and has more than a decade of experience, writing for both local newspapers and national news sites. Across her career she's covered a wide variety of topics, including celebrity, cryptocurrency, politics, true crime and just about everything in between.