Watch: Robotic Copilot Demonstrated By Aurora Flight Sciences

Oct. 20, 2016
For your viewing pleasure, Aurora Flight Sciences is flying a Cessna Caravan fitted with a robotic copilot as it completes work under Phase 2 of a Darpa program to demonstrate automation that could reduce the crew required to fly existing aircraft.

Under Darpa’s Alias (Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System) program, Aurora has also demonstrated its technical approach on a Diamond DA42 piston twin and is installing the system in a Bell UH-1 helicopter.

Aurora and competing Alias contractor Sikorsky have submitted bids for Phase 3 of the program, which will mature technology developed and demonstrated under Phases 1 and 2, says Dan Patt, Darpa program manager.

“Alias is focused on cockpit automation to enable operation of current aircraft with fewer crew, and not on a new aircraft designed for reduced-crew operation,” he says.

Citing shortages of trained military pilots, Patt says “Making each human operator more effective [through robust automation] would be a really large payoff for the Defense Department.”

Alias is not about eliminating the human, but managing all the basic procedures on an aircraft so the pilot is not in the cockpit to flip switches but for their longer-term strategic thinking, he says.

“Pilots can use their time more productively,” Patt says. On an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, Alias would “allow the human to think about the context of the mission and the information being collected versus managing the stick and throttle.”

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