DARPA Tests Robot Copilot


A new advanced robotics system that functions as a copilot has been successfully tested in flight in a Diamond DA-42 and a Cessna Caravan, Aurora Flight Sciences announced this week. On Monday, Aurora demonstrated automated flight capabilities with the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) in a Caravan, flying basic maneuvers under the supervision of a pilot. Aurora is developing the system under contract for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has said it has visions of ALIAS as “a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew.” The goal is to reduce pilot workload, improve mission performance, and increase aircraft safety. The system will next be tested in flight in a Bell UH-1 helicopter. Aurora says it plans to develop the technology for commercial use as well as military applications.

Key elements of Aurora’s solution include the use of in-cockpit machine vision, non-invasive 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. “ALIAS enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats, or even updating logistical plans,” said John Wissler, Aurora’s vice president of research and development. “Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications.” The aim is to allow “humans to perform tasks best suited to humans and automation to perform tasks best suited to automation,” the company says. Aurora, which is headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, has previously developed an autonomous system that can be installed in any helicopter, which then can be operated remotely using a tablet computer.