Autonomous aviation startup Xwing has taken flight for the first time. The company has raised USD$4 million to scale operations and hire aerospace and software designers and engineers.
Xwing, instead of building fully-autonomous aircraft, is making software that will allow for the pilotless flight of aircraft. Their first goal? Conquering the general aviation community and building software for small passenger aircraft.
Xwing software is first focusing on key functions of flight, like sensing input, reasoning, and controlling aircraft. It can detect both ground-based and airborne hazards and their position and react to avoid the hazard safely. And, though this is the current standard for autonomous aviation technology, there is plenty of room to expand the technology. Xwing’s program will be able to be integrated with air traffic control, generate flight paths, monitor system health, and monitor environmental changes to maximize passenger safety.
Xwing isn’t limited to one type of aircraft, either; it’s designed to work across multiple aircraft types, and software is being developed for rotorcraft, general fixed-wing planes, and electric vertical takeoff/landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Xwing has been tested on both subscale fixed-wing aircraft and full-sized helicopters.
According to TechCrunch, Xwing already has about a dozen employees. Some of those employees reportedly have experience with unmanned cars and aircraft.
Xwing was first started by Marc Piette, who, when first working toward a pilot’s license, saw both incredible restraint and potential in general aviation.
“It became pretty apparent that there were major issues with the general aviation industry with smaller aircraft,” Piette said. “And yet it had enormous potential to change the way people moved around.”
One of the biggest issues with general aviation, according to Piette, is cost. In 2017, 3,293 general aviation aircraft (including helicopters) were delivered. In contrast, over 80 million cars were purchased during the same period. This lack of production has kept innovation low and prices high. Xwing will make flying small planes more simple, incentivizing more investment in general aviation and giving more people the opportunity to fly.
— Conor O'Sullivan (@spacetechVC) July 31, 2018
Xwing is reportedly in talks with multiple large manufacturers on integrating its systems into the manufacturers’ aircraft. The manufacturers are, at the time of writing, undisclosed.
If Xwing is able to take off, it has potential to cut through the business of regional airlines that often rely on services to small airports across the United States. If Xwing is able to popularize the use of small general aviation planes, passengers may find it easier or cheaper to fly between small airports with personal, autonomous aircraft rather than pay for an airline ticket.
Such an effect could be similar to that of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system, which could allow for short-haul travel that is cheaper and more convenient than flying with a conventional regional carrier.
Featured image by Xwing