Is a Robot Arm That Could Replace Pilots a Good Idea?

A robotic arm that could replace the co-pilot is being tested. But why not build that into the plane’s software?

Tech News
2 min read
Do we even need pilots anymore?

We've all heard of auto pilot and even experienced it in long-haul flights, where the pilots just let ‘George’ – a colloquial name for the auto-pilot system – take over once the plane is at cruising altitude. But now, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has tested a robotic arm that could technically replace the co-pilot in an aircraft and even land the plane.

Here's a video posted by QZ of the robotic arm developed by Aurora Flight Sciences. It is shown flying and landing a Boeing 737 simulator (for now). It is designed to take over from an incapacitated pilot in an emergency.

However, many feel that such a system is redundant, given the fact that ‘George’, the auto-pilot system, in most case, is able to completely take control of an aircraft and even do a perfect instrument-aided landing. This is a boon in inclement weather. And, of course, it does not take up space in the cockpit like this robotic arm.

Still want a robot to fly your plane?

Aircraft are highly automated pieces of machinery. A pilot's job is actually relegated to making decisions, while the plane is capable of executing most of the actions on its own. Take-off and landing are the two most crucial segments in a flight plan, but even these are now fairly automated, with the help of ground-based instrument aids.

Also read: Welcome Aboard, This Is Your Auto-Pilot Speaking

However, DARPA says this automated arm will help in conditions where there are little or no ground-based aids. It uses in-cockpit aids such as vision systems and speech recognition to perform tasks. This, the outfit says, will help in stressful situations, to safely land aircrafts especially military aircraft.

Perhaps, it's possible it might be inducted into service, but in this age of sleek integrated avionics, it just seems inelegant to have a clunky rig sitting where the co-pilot should be.

Also read: Soon You Can Live-Stream with In-Flight Wi-Fi at 25,000 Feet

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