Think of it as the airborne cousin to the self-driving car: a robot in the cockpit to help human pilots fly passengers and cargo – and eventually even replace them.
The government and industry are collaborating on a program that seeks to replace the second human pilot in two-person flight crews with a robot co-pilot that never tires, gets bored, feels stressed out or gets distracted.
The program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s arm for development of emerging technologies, and run by Aurora Flight Sciences, a private contractor. With both the military and airlines struggling with shortages of trained pilots, officials say they see an advantage to reducing the number of pilots required to fly large aircraft while at the same time increasing safety and efficiency by having a robot pick up the mundane tasks of flying.
The idea is to have the robot free the human pilot, especially in emergencies and demanding situations, to think strategically.