Robot Copilot Lands 737

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Aurora Flight Sciences has successfully tested a robotic copilot in a Boeing 737 simulator, demonstrating that it can safely land the airplane on its own, the company said this week. The system is designed to function as a second pilot in a two-crew aircraft, enabling reduced crew operations while ensuring that aircraft performance and mission success are maintained or improved. Aurora is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the technology. DARPA has said their goal is to test “a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft.” Aurora has previously tested the system in a Diamond DA42, Cessna 208 Caravan, UH-1 Iroquois and DHC-2 Beaver.

“Having successfully demonstrated on a variety of aircraft, ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System) has proven its versatile automated flight capabilities,” said John Wissler, Aurora’s vice president of research and development. “As we move towards fully automated flight from takeoff to landing, we can reliably say that we have developed an automation system that enables significant reduction of crew workload.” Aurora’s technology includes the use of in-cockpit machine vision, robotic components to actuate the flight controls, an advanced tablet-based user interface, speech recognition and synthesis, and a knowledge-acquisition process that facilitates transition of the automation system to another aircraft within a 30-day period. Aurora is also working on a version of the system without robotic actuation that instead aims to support the pilot by tracking aircraft physical, procedural and mission states, increasing safety by actively updating pilot situational awareness.

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Comments (8)

And one wonders why there is a pilot shortage. The beginning of the end.

Posted by: Robert Hoffman | May 18, 2017 7:11 PM    Report this comment

In another article on Avweb, they're talking about remote towers, too. SO ... let's see ... some guy sitting in a room on the other side of the Country is controlling your airport and a robot is landing your airplane. Yup ... the end cannot be far away !!

First the FAA makes it financially and physically near impossible to get to be an ATP so you can fly commercially and then the airlines invent robots to fly. Wonderful.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 19, 2017 1:08 AM    Report this comment

Layovers with your co-pilot won't be nearly as much fun. What's commercial flying coming to?

Posted by: Hans Miesler | May 19, 2017 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Autopilots are more than 80 years old. This system is complex for simple tasks: turn a knob, get a lever down, the classical autopilot is flying the simulator. Autonomy is much more difficult than that. Human factor specialist Erik Hollnagel says it: to be automatised a task needs to be completely described. Which machine knows what is weather, environment, machine state, notams, communications, etc...
We have there the demonstration of a good robotic arm, certainly not a first officer. Not all tasks are automatised in an airliner because it increases safety by system simplicity and because it helps the crew to maintain situation awareness, a concept far away from the abilities of a robotic arm. Artificial Intelligence could be renamed Artificial Stupidity in many cases and this may be one.

Posted by: Sylvestre Goux | May 19, 2017 11:11 AM    Report this comment

Space Shuttle was fully automated except for landing gear lever. This would have solved that issue. Welcome to the Astronaut Office! Read a step, do a step, eat a banana.

Posted by: Hugh Cook | May 19, 2017 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Excuse me, but the robot didn't land the SIM, the autopilot did! And, as one might expect, not on the centerline. So what does it cost,...this machine that dials in airspeeds and selects flaps? Wrong headed in so many ways.

Doug Poulton

Posted by: Douglas Poulton | May 22, 2017 10:05 AM    Report this comment

What are the benefits vs an autopilot?

Posted by: Mauro Hernandez | May 23, 2017 12:33 PM    Report this comment

The robot copilot represents an advance over a dog. The pilot doesn't have to feed it, so his work load can be reduced to zero. Of course the pilot will have to be fitted with a shock collar for robot use in the event the pilot touches anything - robotic arms don't bite.

Posted by: James McLeod | May 23, 2017 12:43 PM    Report this comment

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