‘Human interaction key to autonomy’: Wisk’s Brian Yutko


The Wisk team at the Paris Air Show this week, CEO Brian Yutko appears fourth from right. (credit: Wisk)

Building safe and scaleable ground infrastructure to allow people to interact with autonomous aircraft is key to Wisk’s plans, said CEO Brian Yutko.

Speaking in the Wisk chalet at the Paris Airshow this week, in front of a full-size mockup of its  sixth-generation aircraft, Yutko said: “Even though we don’t have an onboard pilot, we always have to have a human that is overseeing the airplane. We designed the ground stations and the ability for a person to in a way that is safe and scaleable.”

Yutko said Wisk does a lot of work in its California-based autonomy lab designing what those interfaces look like. “Ultimately, the people on the ground who  oversee the airplanes  do not fly it with a joystick, they have a keyboard and mouse. They can provide very high- level commands such as ‘takeoff’ or ‘land now’, but that is effectively the extent of the type of input a person on the ground can give to the airplane.”

Initially, Wisk is going to work on about a 1:3 ratio in terms of ground operator to total aircraft overseen. “The aircraft can be flown 1:1, 1:3 and we have a view on how we get to greater than 1:10,” Yutko told Revolution.Aero. “Even though I am saying 1:3, typically what we might see is more like a ratio of 2:5 to 2:6, because you might want some redundancy and be able to move operators around. But generally that is the way to think about this.”

Human interaction with the aircraft is not exclusive to the ground operator, public acceptance and a willingness to be flown by an autonomous aircraft is also crucial to Wisk’s success. “There is a couple things we are doing to bring people onboard right now. We have many design mockups in our design studio back in California. We’ve brought hundreds of people through to help them experience the interior and help us design the interior. We think it is a consumer- friendly aircraft that has been designed with accessibility in mind – both mobility requirements, but also other accessibility requirements, such as ability to see the text [on the display screen].

Then as Wisk begins operating, lessons will be learnt too, said Yutko. “These will be the first autonomous air taxis in operation and we will learn many things about how people interact with those aircraft and that may lead us to evolve or optimise it in the future. We are putting a ton of thinking into that right now.”

Unique to autonomous aircraft operation, is the requirement to attain both type certification and operational approvals – waivers and exemptions against today’s rule set to operate the aircraft. “That is different from type certifying,” said Yutko. “We are the in queue right now to receive our  Part 135 operator’s certificate and, in the same way, we are working through that process with the waivers and exemptions we expect to need operate that aircraft once certified. We don’t wait until type certification, we do that now.”

As that process nears completion, Yutko said Wisk will begin to identify initial flight routes. Although the firm has not revealed what those routes are, they will require Wisk to receive operational approval to fly. One potential route could be Long Beach to Los Angeles, said Yutko – this route was simulated on the displays inside the mockup aircraft. “Once we have proven we can get operational approvals a few times safely, we will use this to begin flying a lot more routes,” he added.

As well as displaying a full-scale mockup of their sixth-generation aircraft at the Paris Air Show, Wisk has signed a deal with Safran to integrate its SkyNaute inertial navigation systems into the sixth generation. With very high levels accuracy, even when signals are absent or jammed, SkyNaute’s hybrid inertial navigation system will maintain the trajectory of the air taxi throughout the flight, according to the firms.

“We are thrilled to be deploying Safran’s HRG technology as part of this. Our initial testing has confirmed the SkyNaute technology is a step change in navigation system performance and we look forward to deploying it on our 6th Generation air taxi,” said Yutko.