Science fiction and pop culture are filled with robots like WALL-E and C-3PO, turning them from a engineering/science-restricted technology into an element of everyday life, usually in service to human owners. With the emergence of Siri and Cortana along manufacturing of self-driving cars, robots and AI Are have been rapidly integrated into our lifestyles, and are continuing to change them.
About two months ago, science fiction became reality, when a Boeing 737 simulation was operated by a robot pilot, known as ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit System). Footage of the simulation depicts a robotic limb hovering and dancing around the displays and dials of the cockpit. The simulation concluded with a successful landing done by the robot, adding to it’s achievements of successful runs in piloting a Bell UH-1 helicopter and Cessna Caravan in real time.
ALIAS is owned by Aurora Flight Services and constructed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA describes the robot as an easily installed “kit” and, unlike the regular autopilot which takes in flight commands based on what the user inputs, aims to have it manage pilot workload on it's own and contribute significantly to the performance and safety of the aircraft. Additionally, Aurora proudly states that should a pilot be incapacitated or unable to take control, ALIAS would be meant to act as a substitute. However, could ALIAS be a replacement for human pilots instead?
Despite the mixed-response of the idea that robots like ALIAS could replace human pilots (an human labor in general), an article in Wired brings up the fact that it's regulations that are the reason why human pilots are still needed, depending on what airline you work for. Airbus and China give the computers more control (Allowing the pilot to override it when necessary), while Boeing and the United states consider it best if human pilots manage things as much as possible.
Because both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, Boeing has strove to still include both human and computers in their plans for future flight developments. Wired and Geekwire mention that there will be an increase in demand for future air travel but the availability of pilots would be spread thin. Robot pilots like ALIAS would help solve that problem, but the AI would need to be developed to a point where it would be safe and efficient enough to earn the public’s trust to be put in passenger planes.
Additionally this integration of AI into the aircraft system could also affect other elements of aircrafts such as what parts are developed and what equipment has to be supplied to aircraft corporations. As entrepreneurs in the aircraft industry continue make business, they keep an ear out for any news about Artificial Intelligence; the pilots of business trips and family vacations in future could be upgraded version of today’s Siri and Cortana.