Robotic copilot virtually flies, lands simulated Boeing 737

MANASSAS, Va. Aurora Flight Sciences recently demonstrated its work as part of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, when the Aurora ALIAS technology used the aircraft's existing 737 auto-landing system to autonomously land the aircraft safely by way of a flight simulator.

During the demo --performed on a Boeing 737-800NG simulator at the U.S. Transportation Dept.'s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- Aurora’s ALIAS technology showcased its ability to assume the functions and land the plane in the event the pilot becomes incapacitated.

In a statement, described ALIAS a research and development program seeking to take advantage of advances that have already been made in aircraft automation systems, including progress made in unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), to ultimately help reduce pilot workload, enhance mission performance, and improve aircraft safety. DARPA's stated vision for ALIAS is that of “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.”

The ALIAS system includes the use of in-cockpit machine vision, robotic components to actuate the flight controls, a tablet-based user interface, and speech recognition and synthesis. Aurora is also working on a version of the system that aims to support the pilot by tracking the aircraft's physical, procedural, and mission states, thereby increasing safety by actively updating the pilot's .

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