Real Answers from Real Pilots

New Airbus Autonomous Pilot Technology

Airbus has designed and is now testing new, vision based technologies, on board the Airbus A350. They have now demonstrated that with these new systems, the aircraft is able to perform a full takeoff and supposedly will be able to perform a full taxi as well, in addition to the aircraft’s autoland capability. As someone who is currently in training and aspiring to go to the airlines, this is scary to me, because Airbus has now demonstrated that the technology appears to be very much there. What do you guys think, is this a signal of a rapidly changing future, or is it overblown?

Dan,

Totally overblown. A computer doing these tasks in a sterile environment is far different than every day operations. Furthermore, airplanes have been able to land themselves for years, but the limits on the wind are still such that it is not practical to use in all settings. This is a classic of example of the technology being there, but not to the point it needs to be.

Trains operate in one dimension, they can’t even get those to be automated yet. Once they do, I will start to worry, but that technology is decades away as well.

Chris

Dan,

Companies, particularly companies that use tech, love to demonstrate new tech they’r working on. Gets them press, shareholders like it and gets people talking. Space One flew 16yrs ago but I still can’t buy a ticket and go next Thurs and I still don’t have a robot to make my bed in the morning. While things most definitely are advancing we’re still a long way off.

Landing a plane is without question the most challenging aspect of flying. The first successful commercial autoland was performed in 1965 and we’re all still flying and landing. Taxi and takeoff doesn’t impress me. People do that on their intro flights.

Adam

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I would love a bed making robot. I think that would make my life at least 5% better. You may be onto something here.

Seriously, when we were kids there were supposed to be robots by now to do everything. I still cut my grass every week. The technology exists, but it isn’t widespread and I wouldn’t trust something with blades of death driving around my yard, my kids, and my dog by itself. Same thing with airplanes.

We’re still decades away with cars, IMHO, despite the fact that prototypes exist now.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/19/uber-self-driving-car-kills-woman-arizona-tempe

Bed-making robots, now… :thinking::+1:

I’d like a robot that made me a platter of food in the morning so when I woke up it’d be ready, then maybe I’d eat breakfast more often. :sweat_smile:

There has been one in Hill Valley since 1886.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M2K-m5EeKJk

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That’s incredible…I never even knew such a thing existed. :relieved:

Dan,

Straight from the article, last paragraph:

“For autonomous technologies to improve flight operations and overall aircraft performance, pilots will remain at the heart of operations. Autonomous technologies are paramount to supporting pilots, enabling them to focus less on aircraft operation and more on strategic decision-making and mission management.”

The one thing everyone seems to overlook anytime an article like this comes out is how far we are from replacing emotional intelligence with artificial intelligence. While AI is good at doing what we’ve programmed it to do, it cannot yet think for itself, which is required in a dynamic environment. Pilots will always be behind the controls until we’ve solved that problem AND convinced the public to trust the plane.

Cool article though.

Tory

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Excellent point about emotional intelligence, Tory. Also a good point about a lack of trust, though interestingly, in the case of automated vehicles in testing scenarios, overtrust is also something that occurs (the car can do it all; therefore, I don’t have to pay attention). I wonder if that would ever be an issue with planes. I’m speaking purely theoretically, of course. The automation isn’t even remotely to the stage where humans become irrelevant, even under the most ordinary circumstances.

Laura

“The one thing everyone seems to overlook anytime an article like this comes out is how far we are from replacing emotional intelligence with artificial intelligence. While AI is good at doing what we’ve programmed it to do, it cannot yet think for itself, which is required in a dynamic environment. Pilots will always be behind the controls until we’ve solved that problem AND convinced the public to trust the plane.”

Laura,

It’s no secret that automation has made flying safer while at the same time creating new vulnerabilities. Automation is designed to reduce pilot workload and keep the aircraft within a safe operating envelope. However, turning the pilot into more of an automation manager has both pros and cons.

The benefit of automation allows pilots to process more information more efficiently. In contrast, it can also degrade a pilot’s abilities to fly the plane manually. Furthermore, if a complacent pilot is faced with an unexpected event or series of events, a pilot’s situational awareness and capacity to improvise may be degraded. Herein lies the danger. When technology malfunctions or encounters something it doesn’t recognize, pilot intervention is required to fix or salvage the problem, hence why pilots receive, at a minimum, annual training, are checked at random by the FAA, and are encouraged to fly manually to maintain proficiency.

I have a hard time believing that pilots will some day become obsolete. Nor do I think the public will ever support the concept.

Overtrusting automation is one way to put it. Ignorance, complacency, and invulnerability also come to mind. Yes, all of those have crept into aviation because these are all human factors. They are independent of automation. A properly trained pilot is aware of these human factors. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Aware or not, we are all susceptible. There is no such thing as a perfect flight. That’s why we are trained to do what we do. Systems and procedures are put in place to properly mitigate the imperfections.

Because we are not in control of our own environment we would have to design a pilotless airplane to control itself in an infinite number of scenarios. Taking automation to this extreme would create even more vulnerabilities, aside from the obvious. The cons vastly outweigh the pros. IMO, we are more likely to invent a new or adopt an existing mode of transportation before pilotless airplanes become a reality.

Tory

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Robot gourmet cook… that also does the shopping and washes dishes afterwards. Now that’s my jam… :blush:

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You mean a butler?