Korean researchers are developing a humanoid “pibot” that looks like a character from a 1960s science fiction sitcom but unlike most autonomous flight systems, this one can literally fill in for pilots in any aircraft. The team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) say their creation can fly a plane without any modifications to the flight deck. “Pibot is a humanoid robot that can fly an [airplane] just like a human pilot by manipulating all the single controls in the cockpit, which is designed for humans,” David Shim, an associate professor of electrical engineering at KAIST, told Euronews Next.

Pibot has arms and hands with enough dexterity to manipulate controls as accurately in turbulence as a human, but the team says it has other capabilities that far outstrip those of mere mortals. For instance, the full library of Jeppesen charts is stored in memory as are any relevant manuals and reference material. It also gets real-time video from cameras mounted inside and outside the flight deck. The data for the aircraft it’s flying is loaded into that memory without bias learned from other platforms. Artificial intelligence allows it to understand all that information, including emergency procedures, and apply it to the mission at hand. “With the pilot robot, if we teach individual aeroplane configuration, then you can fly the aeroplane by simply clicking the aeroplane’s type,” Shim told Euronews Next.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

50 COMMENTS

  1. For us mere mortals of more modest means, there’s “PortaPilot”, a portable 2-axis autopilot that clamps onto the yoke of a Cessna 172 or 150:
    https://www.portapilot.com/

    And, since it’s portable no certification or 337 needed!

  2. For us mere mortals of more modest means, there’s “PortaPilot”, a portable 2-axis autopilot that clamps onto the yoke of a Cessna 172 or 150. Just look for PortaPilot.com

    And, since it’s portable no certification or 337 needed!

  3. No doubt, automation can replace pilots, until something goes wrong, which in aviation seems to happen regularly.

  4. Sure it can fly the plane, but can it deal with changing weather conditions, ATC requests, and FA issues at the same time?

    • I don’t know about you but I’m usually impressed ( and reassured) when I watch the Captain go out and do his walk around. Will C3PO do that? Will he catch the tell tale signs of an impending hydraulic fluid or fuel leak, maybe a funky cowling latch?

      • The drone aircraft will have thousands of sensors all monitored. Nothing will get by them. The air craft (vehicles) won’t resemble what we currently think of as airplanes since they need no inherent stability. They won’t run out of gas, fly into terrain or lose control in flight. The worst part of autonomous flight will be that it won’t be reliable. One of 10,000 sensors could ground it. The mechanical reliability of the hardware ( including datalink) will be the weak link, not the autonomous portion.

  5. I will be happy to let Professor Shim and the rest of the KAIST staff be the first human passengers when Pibot takes the controls for that inaugural flight. 😉

    • That’s immaterial, as neither your happiness nor your permission will have any bearing on who is aboard for that particular flight.

      But you can be assured that the Pibot will not only be extensively tested and vetted beforehand, but that there will be a live safety pilot on board as well.

      Perhaps not unlike an FO taking his first passenger carrying flight.

  6. Well, I want the Gold model a fully articulate C3PO… Ever since 1980 Starwars drones, besides forget the Rumba… The one I want is a more useful one that it can do more like dishes, windows floors, and bathrooms… NOW that is worth some Green$$$$’s

  7. I would love to watch it try to land a Knight Twister, BF-109, Pitts S-1 or Luscombe Phantom on pavement. Some great YouTube FailArmy stuff right there.

    • I think many of you don’t quite understand what’s capable with electronics these days. The speed and accuracy of sensors – for all kinds of things – that are tiny and can be placed almost anywhere, coupled with microprocessors that can process all that data several hundred times each second, are now commonplace. Have you seen a $1,000 drone “hold station” in 20 knots of gusty wind? It’s child’s play. Landing a plane – any plane that a human can land – could easily be handled by a robot. I’ll bet the Pibot’s landings will be considerably smoother than the vast majority of us mere mortals.

  8. AI is the “magic” that allows software designers to not have to think of and develop all those pesky “use cases” that they would otherwise need to code to. Perhaps it’s time for a mindset change that in addition to equipment certification requires “AI” to also pass pilot certification criteria appropriate for airframe. Probably want to try that checkride in the sim first.

    Prefer self-loading “autopilots” that also pitch in for gas money…

    • Great idea. Let’s find an old cranky DPE and give ‘mechanical man’ an IFR checkride with numerous emergencies and other distractions. THAT will separate the men from the nuts and bolts!

  9. This robot has dozens of servos, many cameras, blocks and mechanisms. And none of them are duplicated. You can imagine what would happen if at least one gear on one of the servos fails!
    Or will all these servos need to be changed according to the calendar?

  10. At least it won’t have the loss of air pressure problem that the auto pilot in the movie Airplane had, corrected by Julie Haggarty as I recall.

    • “There’s something wrong in the cockpit!”
      “The cockpit? What is it?”
      “It’s that little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit. But that isn’t important now.”

  11. well…I went to portapilot.com. their website is not functional. not exactly a great endorsement of their product!

    • Port-A-Pott…. Err I mean Port-A-Pilot site works fine for me. The video is a little long. Would this be a NORSEE device or a portable electronic device? Same question for pibot. I mean, the are physically interfacing with primary flight control system.

  12. No matter how advanced any form of AI will become…….replacing pilots yes……..they will NEVER be able to replace A&P/IA Mechanics………aint no way an AI bot can remove and reinstall a magneto and get the timing correct.

    NASA showed that monkeys can fly an airplanes…………but they can not fix it.

  13. A David Clark headset – nice touch. The marketing folks are way ahead of the engineering group.

    Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

  14. In all seriousness (which is difficult at this point) did anyone else notice the movements of the robot in the video? Typical servo-jerk. Almost no smooth ramped movements. Should be an interesting ride. And call me picky or whatever, but the dude in the video never looked straight at the camera!

    • Saw an article not too long ago (A month? Two months? Seventeen years?) pointing how videos focussed on some particularly technical aspect of flying would often also coincidentally show the same sort of fairly abrupt, small yoke movements which didn’t seem to have any discernible effect on the smoothness of the flight.

      In fact, I also think I’ve seen it on in-car race car cameras.

      As a matter of fact, when last I last blazed through the lovely, two lane scenic mountain highway that leads to my town, I saw it again.

      Take a look at various online videos of other than straight-and-level cruising either in air or on land – those adjustments might surprise you.

  15. The fact that C3PO wears David Clark did it for me. I’m 100% convinced. There were only a one or two trips in my career where I would’ve rather had C3PO instead of my FO. Not enough to put him on the payroll and the FO on the street.

  16. It would be productive to test the accuracy and usefulness of the pilot’s operating handbook by having Pibot follow it to the letter with a crafty DPE in the right seat.

  17. I wonder if the KAIST team has put the same effort into developing the “pibot’s” decision-making ability?
    I can well imagine them solving the problems of “manual” control of an airplane but effective decision making in all situations? How about decisions involving conflicting imperatives? I wonder how many experienced pilots the team consulted to find out what is involved in the piloting activity/profession? If not, then they have an incomplete and inadequate idea of the problems they are actually trying to solve.
    When I was still flying the line, I used to contemplate what I was doing that a “drone” pilot could not do. I always came up with 5 or more things. How about refusing an airplane with radar deferred when the boss says go fly it into a convective complex? The captain/PIC is always the last line of defense against stupid decisions and this role MUST be played by someone who “has skin in the game”.
    Count me as a skeptic.

  18. Anyone remember KAL 007 a 747 that was off course and entered Soviet Union Airspace and was shot down with a US Senator on board?? In my airline career, I only had two RA’s (TCAS Resolution Advisory) and they were both KAL flights descending into Tokyo. Maybe, just maybe, this thing could run the FAA??

    • You’re a genius, 747pilot! PiBot for FAA Administrator !!! I look forward to hearing from ‘it’ at the Meet the Boss forum at Airventure 2024

  19. I see a “Shaky”, “Woobly” fake arm hitting mostly one button slowly in a stationary sim cockpit. Try hitting the right button while in heavy chop and hand flying the plane. This thing is NOT ready for primetime.

  20. I am always amazed that, in a field like aviation that has experienced (and benefitted from) so much technological innovation that there are still so many luddites in our field who ridicule technological progress when it occurs. No doubt this is the “A” model Pibot and no doubt it (or some more advanced version) will rapidly become more capable and reliable. In five years (maybe less) those of us who welcome progress will be marveling at how much safer automation has made aviation. I learned to fly in 1973 and no way I would return to the days before I had my Garmin 1000 and my iPad-based Foreflight, both of which make me safer and more efficient when I fly. Go Pibot!

LEAVE A REPLY