When we talk about automation in aircraft, the first thing that comes to our mind is the Auto-pilot system. Modern auto-pilot systems can fly the plane entirely between take-off and landing.
However, human pilots are still needed in cases where a human can know better than a computer. Let’s not forget the deadly crash of Lion Air Flight 610 that killed 189 passengers, due to an automation system error.
But now, we are looking at a robot that can pilot an aircraft without the assistance of a human. The robot, ROBOpilot, is developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) with the help of DZYNE Technologies.
ROBOpilot is nothing like the standard auto-pilot in airplanes. The robot literally takes control of the system, manually pressing the foot pedals and handling the yoke with robotic arms. It reads the electronic dials on the plane dashboard with a computer vision system.
Interestingly, ROBOpilot can be inserted into any plane and can be removed afterward. “Users remove the pilot’s seat and install a frame in its place, which contains all the equipment necessary to control the aircraft including actuators, electronics, cameras, power systems, and a robotic arm,” writes Afresearchlab.
ROBOpilot has already passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s Practical Test that allows newcomers to fly light-weight aircraft. Till now, only humans took the test, but it appears like we would have robots taking the test as well.
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On August 9th, the robot pilot even took its first flight, at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which lasted for more than two hours. A few days later, it was also involved in an accident where the robot sustained damage; the extent of damage is not disclosed.
For now, the robot will go under hundreds of hours of testing before it can prove helpful to the aircraft sector.