Will DARPA’s Robotic Arm Be Your Copilot?
Kyle Maxey posted on October 18, 2016 |
In-cockpit automation aims to reduce pilot error. How’d the first live test go?
DARPA's ALIAS in action aboard a Cessna Caravan. (Image courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences/DARPA.)

DARPA's ALIAS in action aboard a Cessna Caravan. (Image courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences/DARPA.)

DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), a specialized robotic arm meant to take the place of a copilot, demonstrated its automated acumen by taking a Cessna Caravan through basic maneuvers while under the supervision of a pilot. 

The idea behind the ALIAS system is to take as much of the burden off of pilots as possible. Today’s aircraft are obviously more complex than those that were flying 20 years ago, and with that complexity comes the chance that something might go wrong mid-flight due to pilot error.

To that end, DARPA’s vision includes ALIAS being “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.”

To improve flight performance, ALIAS has been constructed to use machine vision, non-invasive robotics that will move flight controls and speech acquisition software to communicate with its human copilot. What’s more, the system also comes with a “knowledge acquisition” feature that can develop an automation transition profile. This profile is intended to make learning how to fly other planes easier for the robot. ALIAS also comes with a tablet interface to make communicating with the system au courant. 

In conjunction with Aurora Flight Sciences, DARPA’s recent test has proven that hardware systems like ALIAS might be able to replace some of the flight crew on both commercial and military craft in the future.

“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.”

Though ALIAS has been allowed to take to the skies, the robot isn’t ready to be installed in commercial airliners or military craft just yet. Given that this is a DARPA project, that likely means it will be several years before we see ALIAS systems flying the friendly skies.

For more on the future of aviation, meet NASA’s new electric X-plane.

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