Projections by IATA, indicating that hundreds of thousands of pilots will be needed over the next 20 years, have coincided with a separate development – the arrival of a robot co-pilot, with a video showing one already flying an aircraft.
A new advanced robotics system that functions as a co-pilot has been successfully tested in flight in the US, Aurora Flight Sciences announced this week. The system is called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS).
A video of the robot in action can be viewed here:
The development has renewed speculation that airlines, especially low-cost carriers, might rather like the arrival of something that allows them to replace a high-cost pilot with a machine that doesn’t tire, run out of hours or require payment.
Other people, however, say you can’t beat a human, and that having a pilot alone on the flight deck with a robot is not sound practice, either psychologically for the pilot, or on safety grounds.
Aurora is developing the system under contract for the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has said it envisages 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,” aviation site AvWeb reports.
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 ALIAS for commercial use as well as military applications. It says it has demonstrated the technology successfully on three separate aircraft, in less than a year.
Written by Peter Needham