Autonomous aircraft are likely to be the future of air travel, but we’re not quite there yet; even with autopilot systems in place, most airplanes are designed with human pilots in mind. South Korean researchers may have a clever robotic stopgap, however. Their tinyPIBOT automaton uses a mixture of flight data and visuals to fly using real controls. It still needs intervention shortly before touchdown, but it can otherwise take to the skies as well as many organic air crews — it may even be a bit better in a few areas, since it uses its camera to align neatly with the runway on takeoff and landing.
How close are we to a day when robots will fly airplanes? A presentation of a takeoff and landing simulation at the IROS (International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) in Chicago this month, “A Robot-Machine Interface for Full-functionality Automation using a Humanoid,” by Heejin Jeong, David Hyunchul Shim and Sungwook Cho, may help you to come up with answers. A small robot worked the controls of a simulated cockpit. PIBOT, as the robot was called, was able to work the controls, to the extent that it was able to identify and use the buttons and switches found in a real cockpit of a normal light aircraft designed for humans, reported Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum. PIBOT as shown in the video prepares for flight by turning on the switches in the order of power, battery, altimeter etc. The engine starts and PIBO accelerates on the runway while following the center line of the runway. After climbing it takes turns, approaches the runway, aligns with the runway and makes a safe landing on the ground.