Getting to Know Wayfinder’s Owlet and the Team’s Senior Systems Integration Test Engineer, Ludovic Lelostec

What were you working on before you joined Acubed?

Prior to Acubed, I worked at an all-electric self-flying air taxi company as a system test engineer focusing on sub-systems. I ran manufacturing tests, development tests, certification tests and, if any issues arose during the flight tests, I would help troubleshoot the test setup and replicate those failures to provide more data than can typically be offered from flying. Personally, I enjoy working with drones whether it's flying or shooting videos with them so this career path was natural for me.

Why did you join Acubed?

I’m from France, where Airbus is a widely-known organization. Being based in Silicon Valley for the last 8 years where I earned my Masters in Science from Stanford, I heard about and then started following the Vahana project and would regularly read up on it on Acubed’s blog. That’s where I found out about Wayfinder.

Eventually I ended up connecting with one of the Wayfinder team members at an aerospace event, and I was really attracted to their specific focus on computer vision. It was also an amazing opportunity to use my background in aerospace testing and apply that to a new field, so just about a year ago I made the jump to Acubed. Working on the Wayfinder team offers me the ability to grow and learn about cameras and machine learning, an area in which I’m still gaining experience. It’s the perfect mix of being in my comfort zone and expanding my comfort zone.

What have you worked on so far?

The Owlet is essentially a wooden bird - or replica of our Baron 58 aircraft at full-scale - that we use to test hardware and software changes within the lab. We call it the Owlet because it’s a copy of our Onboard Wayfinder Laboratory (OWL) aircraft. Developing the Owlet has been my main focus over the past year. To see the Owlet through to fruition meant working on a bit of everything from mechanical design to electrical design and even some software development. And of course, testing, testing and more testing to ensure everything works as we need it to. With the Owlet, we’ve been able to vastly improve our lab testing abilities, reducing the need to rely on a live aircraft setup.

Fig. 1 Ludovic had the opportunity to present the Owlet to Airbus CTO, Sabine Klauke on her recent U.S. visit.

How does the Owlet help in your day-to-day work?

The Owlet created a much more agile process, making testing in the lab much easier, reducing downtime of the test aircraft, improving safety, saving time and money and streamlining remote work during COVID.

  • Safety: We have the ability with the Owlet to run testing in environmental and electrical conditions that we can’t always plan for. And, we can run tests for hours upon hours on the ground before flying, providing incredible opportunities for data collection and analysis for further testing. The additional safety opportunities the Owlet provides are one of the main motivators in creating this setup.
  • Reduces downtime of the test aircraft: If we want to install a new piece of hardware or a software change we can test everything on the Owlet. For example, the Owlet has the same harness lens and representative installations so if Airbus were to install a new system on the nose cone used in the field, we can install that same system on the Owlet in the lab to check if everything fits and works properly. If it does, then I know once we go to the aircraft we won’t run into any challenges because it is a replica. And if it doesn't, then any changes can be pushed to the lab to work on in parallel. Once we verify everything is safe, we’re then able to push those changes to the aircraft much faster, as soon as two to three days.
  • Saves time and money: With the ability to run testing from the lab we save time because of our proximity to resources in the office. If we run a test and have a question or concern we can quickly and easily run back into the lab to replicate the issue and show the engineers so we can discuss solutions in real-time. When we’re testing in the field we’re much further from support teams, making it more challenging to collaborate. And, when you’re working on an aircraft at the airport it’s more expensive because of the costs associated with flying the aircraft and simply having the props spin.

Streamlining remote work during COVID: Everyone knows how challenging COVID made in-person collaboration. The Owlet was fully accessible remotely, making our work much more streamlined when we couldn’t be together. For example, we use a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that shows what the system is doing live, such as the telemetry from the GPS and different sensors. Regardless of location, we could use the HMI to verify that everything was working properly before the test flight ie. buttons and screen interface.

What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve encountered so far?

My job is to verify the full system, which means I have to make sure everything works after it’s been put together. I need to be familiar with all the subsystems and how they operate. The biggest challenge is keeping up with changes from each of the departments and for each subsystem and if there are too many changes at once that can make things difficult.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about gravitating toward the autonomous tech industry?

Autonomous technology is an incredibly exciting field to be in today. In aerospace it’s particularly interesting as we believe we’ll see autonomy in the air before we see it on our roads. To be able to be a part of building this necessary, scalable future for such a vital industry as aviation is meaningful. A lot of skills that engineers have can be applied - and highly valued - at companies like Acubed. I have agency over the work I do, and am working alongside other brilliant engineers and aerospace specialists. We’re tackling important, complex questions around certification and safety standards - this is the time to join this important mission if you’re considering it and Acubed has a myriad of great opportunities to join our team.

If you’re interested in joining our team and building the future of flight do reach out via our open roles here.