Tiny Robot Handles Pilot Role


A small humanoid robot about 6 inches tall successfully flew a flight simulator at a conference in Chicago last week. Professor David Hyunchul Shim and his students from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, KAIST, in Korea, presented a research paper entitled “A Robot-machine Interface for Full-functionality Automation Using a Humanoid.” The robot operated a panel of buttons and switches and a control stick, demonstrating a smooth takeoff and landing in a simulated single-engine airplane. “‘Pibot’ will help us have a fully automated flight experience, eventually replacing human pilots,” said Prof. Shim. The pibot has also flown a model biplane, and the team has said they plan to teach it to fly a real GA aircraft.

The robot was modified from an off-the-shelf product called Bioloid, built by Robotis. It manipulated a simulated throttle, switches, and control stick. It has a video camera that it uses to detect the edge of the runway. According to the researchers, the robot is able to “satisfy the various requirements specified in the flying handbook by the Federal Aviation Administration.” The technology could presumably provide a step between today’s aircraft that are designed to be operated by human pilots, and the autonomous airplanes of the future.