The Pentagon's Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military, has facilitated the development of a robotic system to take over flying duties from military pilots. According to DARPA, the program, known as Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) was to produce "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."
Last month, the system was successfully tested in three different models of military aircraft, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, a Diamond DA-42 aircraft, and two Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft. The testing also included ground demonstrations of the system responding to simulated system failures. These demonstrations also proved that the installation and removal of the system did not damage the vehicles.
According to DARPA program manager, Scott Wierzbanowski, “In Phase 2, we exceeded our original program objectives with two performers, Sikorsky and Aurora Flight Sciences, each of which conducted flight tests on two different aircraft.” The next phase of development looks to bring the system to seven more types of aircraft, including fixed-wing, and rotary propelled vehicles. “In Phase 3, we plan to further enhance ALIAS’ ability to respond to contingencies, decrease pilot workload, and adapt to different missions and aircraft types," says Wierzbanowski. Given the extensive strides the first two phases of the project have made, it may not be too much longer before we see the technology deployed.
A statement released by DARPA points to NASA, the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy as having expressed interest in ALIAS. With the system being expanded to potentially include a total of ten different types of aircraft, we may start seeing a lot of pilots without planes to fly. However, Sikorsky's chief autonomy engineer Igor Cherepinsky sees things a little differently. He says, "Today's pilots spend a lot of their time making sure the aircraft is stable, it's going in the right direction, it's going the right speed, obeying the laws of the air if you will, so ALIAS copilot can take care of all of that and free the human being to supervise and make sure that the bigger mission is running its course."
While future pilots of these planes may be relegated to other tasks on the aircraft, other workers whose jobs are being taken over by automation do not share the same luxury. Some reports indicate that seven percent of all jobs in the United States could be lost to automation. Not only does this include low-skill manufacturing jobs but also professions in the fields of law and even medicine.