back to article Robot lands a 737 by hand, on a dare from DARPA

An outfit called Aurora Flight Sciences is trumpeting the fact that one of its robots has successfully landed a simulated Boeing 737. Aviation-savvy readers may well shrug upon learning that news, because robots – or at least auto-landing systems - land planes all the time and have done so for decades. Aurora's excitement is …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Surely the robot needs software to run itself *and* land planes? That's double the effort surely?

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Trollface

      No,no it just needs topping up every now and again when the air goes down.

      And don't call me Shirley...

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Facepalm

        @Sgt Oddball

        Too many mixed movie references.

        All that negative energy is such a downer.

        And what do you name this machine? Otto Pilot ? ;-)

        And of course someone beat me to the punch.

        I knew this was a bad week to stop taking meth.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The human world is built around human interfaces. Once you have the design that can see and interpret the visual information that we can, hear the audible clues, and manipulate the world as we do with our hands and feet you have a design that can automate anything a human can control....... probably very very badly at first.

      Hopefully from a robotic point of view flying a plane is mechanically no harder than opening a door.

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Share and enjoy!

        > Hopefully from a robotic point of view flying a plane is mechanically no harder than opening a door.

        So long as you get those left-side diodes replaced under warranty.

      2. boltar Silver badge

        "Hopefully from a robotic point of view flying a plane is mechanically no harder than opening a door."

        Except for the minor point that said robot needs input. They mention machine vision but I'm a bit suspicious about this and unless machine vision has progessed in leaps and bounds in the last few days I'm wondering exactly how many of the dials, screens and switches it can actually read and how much training it required to be able to read tbe ones it can.

        Oh , and "sitting in the co-pilots seat" seems to be a euphamism for ripping the seat out and bolting a bot in its place. Hardly a 5 minute job. I imagine it would be somewhat simpler to plug in an upgraded autopilot board that could do the job itself.

        1. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

          Need input, Stephanie!

      3. Captain DaFt

        "Hopefully from a robotic point of view flying a plane is mechanically no harder than opening a door."

        Oh crap!

        https://youtu.be/UUOo8N9_iH0

    3. Manolo
      Pint

      Did you use that "surely" on purpose, to facilitate movie themed jokes? If so, have a pint!

  2. Graham O'Brien
    Coat

    Needs a cute name

    How about Otto Pilot?

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Needs a cute name

      Or... RUFUS!

      (from a ridiculously funny sci-fi book I read decades ago, which I can't find anyplace - called "Hey, down there!" - the computer picked a name for itself, 'Rufus')

      (you know the jokes are geeky enough when you have to explain them)

  3. ratfox Silver badge
    WTF?

    Huh?

    Sorry, in a fly-by-wire plane, I simply don't understand what's the advantage to have a robotic arm moving the controls, rather than a system directly interfacing with the plane's electronics.

    Unless it's purely for the challenge of doing it harder than necessary.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Huh?

      no operational advantage I expect.

      but it is aircraft and manufacturer independent, and can be tested in isolation. much, much easier to deploy, or indeed wrench out of the seat in the event of malfunction. Wrenching is tricky in-flight with software...

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Huh?

        It will still need to be customised for every type of plane, as they are all different with different characteristics - even moreso with a robot rather than fly by wire, as not only do the planes handle differently, the controls will be in different places in different cockpits...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Huh?

          Customised, yes, but independently of fiddling with the fly-by-wire flight control systems themselves. Its not a free job, but far simpler than changing fundamental software components of the aircraft. This is sensible if a retrofit is required.

          New aircraft could well have the software built-in and not require "protuberances" to operate the flight controls though.

          1. JohnG

            Re: Huh?

            "Customised, yes, but independently of fiddling with the fly-by-wire flight control systems themselves. Its not a free job, but far simpler than changing fundamental software components of the aircraft."

            I don't think so. Fly by wire systems already have all the sensor inputs and control outputs necessary to fly the aircraft. All that is needed is some software to use those inputs and outputs, whilst observing flying rules (Try to land on a runway, ideally, the correct one. Don't land inverted. You need wheels to land.) A robot has to use a camera with optical recognition and mechanical manipulators - which will inevitably introduce lag and inaccuracies/errors - and then it has to have the same software to actually use inputs and flying rules to make outputs. Any system would have to be passed for use on each aircraft type.

            P.S. In the video, the robot accidentally pushed the control yoke forward, whilst looking at instruments.

        2. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: Huh?

          'It will still need to be customised for every type of plane, as they are all different with different characteristics'

          Well it can't be that hard, meatsacks have been flying different types of aircraft for years.

          1. dajames Silver badge

            Re: Huh?

            Well it can't be that hard, meatsacks have been flying different types of aircraft for years.

            I have it on good authority that if you can fly a Sopwith Camel you can fly anything!

            1. DropBear Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: Huh?

              "I have it on good authority that if you can fly a Sopwith Camel you can fly anything!"

              ...even a GeeBee Model R...?

          2. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: Huh?

            "Well it can't be that hard, meatsacks have been flying different types of aircraft for years."

            We can have this discussion again when household robots that can manually wash dishes, operate normal vacuum cleaners and generally fully care for the elderly on their own are ubiquitously common and stupidly reliable. Until then, I'm just going to assume reading this that it's either somehow April the 1st again or lots of important and apparently sane people somehow went start raving mad without anyone noticing.

        3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: Huh?

          "It will still need to be customised for every type of plane [...]"

          So? You need to "customise" pilots too. I.e. train and re-train them for every type they are going to fly in.

          1. JohnG

            Re: Huh?

            "It will still need to be customised for every type of plane [...]"

            "So? You need to "customise" pilots too. I.e. train and re-train them for every type they are going to fly in."

            Yes. You don't have to start from scratch but there are some steps involved in switching between different aircraft types. You can't pass your PPL in a Cessna and fly a 747 the next day.

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
              Alert

              Re: Huh?

              Pedant alert ...

              You can't pass your PPL in a Cessna and fly a 747 the next day.

              Actually, yes you can if you have the money. I believe it is technically possible to train for and get your PPL in a 747 - though the difference in cost between the per-hour cost of a light piston single and a 747 would make it a very expensive proposition.

              Assuming you took the conventional route to your PPL (SEP(A)), you could still jump in a 747 the next day if you had the money to buy lessons for the type-specific qualification.

        4. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Huh?

          "It will still need to be customised for every type of plane"

          not if it's "human enough". Then an ODB-II type connection for aircraft, and you're all set!

        5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Huh?

          "

          It will still need to be customised for every type of plane

          "

          It could have the same central "autopilot engine" software for all types, but supplied with different fixed parameters for each aircraft type. The physics of fixed-wing subsonic flight are the same for all aircraft from a two-seat Cessna to an Airbus, only the physical constants (and a few variables such as position & quantity of loaded mass) cause the differences in behaviour. Many of the less significant variables could even be learned by the autopilot literally "on the fly" (auto-tuning). No need for visual recognition or cameras either, the autopilot can have its own set of gyro instruments and radio navigation receivers, and will need only external connections to a couple of aerials and a pitot and static air feed (readily available or easily tapped), and maybe the AoA indicator - though that can be computed from other data so is not strictly necessary except as a cross-check.

          The big advantage is that you only need one such autopilot to be able to equip any one of a fleet of different aircraft on demand, rather than fitting every aircraft with a full autopilot on the off-chance that it will one day be needed for operational reasons. The mechanical connections can be engineered so as to easily adjust or have adaptors fitted to suit a wide range of cockpit layouts, so installation does not have to take weeks.

        6. PNGuinn
          Go

          Re: Huh?

          "It will still need to be customised for every type of plane"

          No, "I'm sorry Dave I can't let you have back control" would be universal for any plane?

          Shirly.

          "I'm sorry Shirly ..." might be more inclusive though.

          Shirly?

      2. Spudley

        Re: Huh?

        but it is aircraft and manufacturer independent, and can be tested in isolation. much, much easier to deploy, or indeed wrench out of the seat in the event of malfunction. Wrenching is tricky in-flight with software...

        The image that springs to mind is Arnie wrenching the JohnnyCab robot.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Huh?

        "no operational advantage I expect."

        Worse than that, ignoring the problems of verifying the software running the robot, the actual use of it introduces more points of failure than interfacing directly with the fly by wire system. You now have more possible mechanical points of failure, and the whole thing needs to "fail safe" i.e. it has to be mechanically impossible for it to get stuck irreversibly against the controls in a way which will cause the aircraft to crash. And then of course, there's the *more* complex task of writing the software for the thing.

        Being charitable, it's a fun project, and kudos to the team for building it and making it work, but ultimately, I really hope it never makes it into a real aircraft.

    2. Velv Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Huh?

      The 737 hasn't traditionally been a fly-by-wire plane

    3. Florida1920

      Re: Huh?

      Sorry, in a fly-by-wire plane, I simply don't understand what's the advantage to have a robotic arm moving the controls, rather than a system directly interfacing with the plane's electronics.
      It's those darn robot unions.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      The 737 is a very common plane and was probably easy to "borrow" one for the test. I would think that the fly-by-wire automations were turned off to allow the robot to do it's thing with human oversight. Or perhaps the on-board system was allowed to be active to compare notes, so to speak.

      1. Chris 239

        Re: Huh?

        Acutally watching it the robot used the auto pilot to do the job - the only actual flight controls it used were the flap lever ( because there is no auto flap on this type) and the reverse thrust levers (after it's touched down) every thing else was done with the auto pilot and auto throttle controls (the knobs and buttons just below the glare shield).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Using one's protuberances to pilot an aircraft

    Now that is just showing off...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Using one's protuberances to pilot an aircraft

      Beware the back seat driver...

      Yikes!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Using one's protuberances to pilot an aircraft

      .... and no one likes a clever dick.

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Unsubscribe

    No still of the inflatable autopilot from Airplane. Shirley you can't be serious.

    1. Simon Ward

      Re: Unsubscribe

      Yes.

      Yes they are.

      And stop calling me Shirley.

    2. Ben1892

      Re: Unsubscribe

      We don't come here for actual pictures of the device in the factual headline, we want alliterated click-bait with a totally inappropriate images !

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Unsubscribe

        "click-bait with a totally inappropriate images "

        Been a while since we saw

        https://regmedia.co.uk/2011/11/09/eee_4.jpg

    3. aui

      Re: Unsubscribe

      Methinks this still from Fireball XL5 would have been better: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/sqdT3GJaMpM/0.jpg

  6. A K Stiles
    Joke

    Voice recognition

    "Okay 'Otto', I have the controls"

    "I'm sorry Dave..."

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Voice recognition

      "Okay 'Otto', I have the controls"

      Roger, Over.

      What's our vector, Victor?

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Voice recognition

        Roger!

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    Surely someone is thinking....

    "Land the plane he says." Here I am, brain the size of a small planet and he asks me to land the plane.

    1. Tony Haines

      Re: Surely someone is thinking....

      Looks like a skutter to me.

  8. Chairo
    Devil

    I suppose

    This is the fix for the F35 flight avionics SW issues...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I suppose

      I thought the fix for that was the ground at 500mph...i.e. give it a bash and maybe it will work..

  9. M7S
    Terminator

    It is to pre-empt the "Galactica" defence

    So if you think you can resist the RoTM by keeping some of your weapons off grid, once they've gained access to your base, they take them directly and use them against you.

  10. PTW
    Happy

    R2D2's time has come

    see title

    Edit: O.K. well he didn't use protuberances to fly, but still I'd rather think of him in the co-pilot seat than a T2

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: R2D2's time has come

      I am sure R2D2 used his protuberance to screw into various interfaces while making little squeaking sounds!

  11. Brenda McViking
    Terminator

    I'm sure we'll see it as a retrofit option. The road to autonomy as we know it involves robotic assistance for the meatbag first, followed by lots of supervised machine learning, and then a gradual phase out of meatbags who are sat there with a hand on the big red override switch. We'll see it with land vehicles first, then marine, then aviation.

    Airlines know full well that they have to pay two very expensive pilots salaries when their effective professional utilisation is probably around the 3-5% mark. Most of the time they are staring at instruments of an aircraft that requires no intervention. Even if there is a mandate for human intervention, this could be done in the same way that military drone operations are done now - high reliability datalinks with a professional pilot at the other end, potentially controlling multiple aircraft if the required utilisation rate of the pilot is low. I'm not saying your passenger planes are going to be affected for decades yet, but semi-autonomous cargo? Probably could be done by 2025.

    1. toughluck

      Suppose that, on average, a captain earns $200,000 and the first officer earns $100,000 (these figures are way overstated) and both fly 100 times a year (and that one is way understated).

      Each flight would then cost $3,000 in flight deck crew cost.

      Fuel capacity of an aircraft varies between ~15 tons for a small passenger jet (737 or A320), and ~70 tons for a widebody like 787.

      That's between some 4900 and 23000 gallons of jet fuel. I've searched for current prices of jet fuel and I found wildly different prices, from ~140¢/gal (IATA) to as high as 293-790¢/gal (aviationweek, low-high prices across the US). Going with the lowest figures, it costs from $6,800 to $32,000 to fuel up an aircraft. Flight deck crew costs doesn't even enter into the picture.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        'and both fly 100 times a year (and that one is way understated).'

        To be honest for long haul that's probably overstated.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge
          Trollface

          From what I have known in the past, on long haul flights the Pilots spend most of their time doing crosswords or sleeping..

          I wonder if this robot can also do a crossword whilst sleeping ?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "can also do a crossword whilst sleeping ?"

            Yes, but only the Daily Mail one, so lots of very cross words, and it will only fly people to and from Commonwealth countries, as everyone else is evil.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "Flight deck crew costs doesn't even enter into the picture."

        However that represents one recurring cost (pilot salary) versus 1 single payment (with a service contract as well?)

        It also (might) represent several kilos of mass IE the 2nd pilot that does not have to be carried and can be replaced by more useful "stuff" (IE something the airline can charge you for rather than a cost they have to pay). TBH that 'bot looks quite heavy but then it's a PoC design and I don't think DARPA said it had to be lighter, just about the same as a pilot.

        That said as a permanent installation in a commercial aircraft they could probably simplify the design and have its control boards share the equipment racks with other stuff and take various other measures to cut its weight below that of a meatsack. 10-20Kg below the average weight of a pilot might sound nothing but over the life of aircraft (and with some airlines on <1% profit) that multiplies up to a shed load of cash.

        That said autoland systems are certified to 1 fail in 1x 10^9 operating hours. That sounds ridiculous but consider (using round numbers) 6000 737's in operation x 10 mins of autoland operation x # of flights a day --> 1000 hrs x # of flights a day. IOW you've racked up 1 billion operations in 3 years.

        Demonstrating this system can have that level of reliability will be tough.

        But it's going to happen in commercial aviation at least. The bottom line is (sadly) the bottom line.

        1. toughluck

          Re: "Flight deck crew costs doesn't even enter into the picture."

          @John Smith 19:

          However that represents one recurring cost (pilot salary) versus 1 single payment (with a service contract as well?)

          Not until they invent planes that you only fuel up once and never pay for fuel again.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            "Not until they invent planes that you only fuel up once and never pay for fuel again."

            Sorry, I was not clear.

            The single payment I was talking about was the purchase cost of the robot. Beyond X number of flights the saving from not paying for pilot (or co-pilot) pays for the 'bot.

            If it's also lighter than the average pilot that can also save a (smallish) number of Kg of fuel per flight, but over the life of the aircraft that can also be substantial. Otherwise they might trade if for something else. It might put new routes within range of existing aircraft for example.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: "Not until they invent planes that you only fuel up once and never pay for fuel again."

              Also, easy to envision lower running costs (no food, water, or sleep needed) and potentially reduced risks (no risk of them showing up DRUNK or otherwise stressed out).

      3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Airline Pilot, Copilot, or Flight Engineer Salary

        It's all relative. OTOH, I know what a good plumber can make.

      4. Tom 7 Silver badge

        RE: Flight deck crew costs doesn't even enter into the picture.

        Still wont stop some accountant saving the company money. Saving that $100,000 a year may not make any difference to ticket prices but its a health bonus for someone.

        I've noticed in some companies above a certain level saving $100,000 will lead to a much higher bonus. Maths is different in the thin air at the top.

    2. PNGuinn
      Facepalm

      "high reliability datalinks with a professional pilot at the other end"

      ALL YOUR 737Z ARE BELONG TO UZ.

      I suspect that won't end well. The NSA are bound to find / mandate ...

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      While I tend to agree, but there's the human thing. Not just from passengers needing reassurance that there's a human in charge. We've had several incidents (for lack of a better term) where the pilot managed to save the plane and passengers a nasty death. On the other hand, we've had a few incidents where not having a human pilot might have been a better thing.

    4. Wiltshire

      I'd like to see them try this as a retro-fit to a De Havilland Mosquito, then land it on an aircraft carrier.

      Any Winkle Brown refs most welcome.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    first they came for the co-pilot...

    ...

    actually, wrong. First they came for the drivers, of course.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: first they came for the co-pilot...

      It actually boggles the mind how we can even talk about attempting to replace drivers with a straight face, while we require our vehicles moving around on fucking rails to still be operated (to the sole extent of "go faster" "go slower" "stop here") by humans, all across the board.

      1. Nik 2

        Re: first they came for the co-pilot...

        Partly because train drivers are heavily unionised, and will take strong action to head off this threat, which is why implementation is limited to wholly new systems like DLR in London and to shuttle systems at airports, etc.

        Also, I used to know a train driver, and he would have to leave the cab of his train to perform maintenance on a fairly regular basis. AIUI, this was often of the percussive nature.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: first they came for the co-pilot...

          And the DLR is comparatively easy to automate, since much of the track is up out of the reach of stupid meatsacks doing silly things after five pints of snakebite and black.

          I haven't actually been on the DLR for ten years or so. Does each train still have a guard aboard to stop the stupid meatsacks doing silly things with the doors when they realise they've missed their station?

          1. Putters

            Re: first they came for the co-pilot...

            Yes, DLR still has Train Captains. They can drive the trains in emergency / fault conditions. They are first line fault diagnosis and repair. They also provide a degree of security and a visible point of contact for customers.

            One of the other requirements for "no crew" trains is that the train is easily accessible in emergency situations - which explains the footway in the tunnel on the DLR when it goes into Bank, and which rules out most of the Tube as being driver free.

            Another is Platform Edge doors - which rules out any Lines of the Tube where more than one stock shares a platform as the doors don't line up - so forget the Jubilee, and Met, and District / Met and Piccadilly

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: first they came for the co-pilot...

      "First they came for the drivers, of course."

      Hi! I'm Johnny Cab.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Genuinely interesting idea

    And kinda though provoking. The advantages of making robots that can use interfaces that humans use, rather than specifically interfacing for a robot is clear. You only need one interface, and the robot could be interoperable for other human interfaces too, perhaps such as a car . However, there is zero, and I mean no excuse whatsoever not to put an airline pilot's cap on the robot in that picture. What the heck were they thinking?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "The advantages of making robots that can use interfaces that humans use"

      Yes. A group called Shadow Robotics noticed as much about 30 years ago. It turns out that building a human strong, human speed, human weight and at least human accurate robot is very tough.

      The big one is the human weight. Human muscle is actually very light for its output relative to other systems and real human hands have 100s of degrees of freedom, enabled by each one.

  14. wolfetone Silver badge

    Somewhere in Ireland

    Michael O'Leary is stroking his Ryanair plane, trying not to explode with excitement of cutting costs even further by sacking all his pilots.

    He has mentioned pilotless planes before (or having one pilot instead of 2), so this will only drive him on.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

      Somewhere in Ireland...Michael O'Leary is stroking his Ryanair plane,

      Vigorously.

  15. SkippyBing Silver badge

    All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again

    The UK actually did something similar to this with its Sea Vixen drone programme

    https://www.seavixen.org/sea-vixen-drone-d3-era

    The difference mainly being they never got round to trying it in different aircraft as far as I can tell and it didn't have a robotic arm on the controls. But the basic principle of a removable package that can replace the pilot in a variety of aircraft is there.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again

      From the site

      https://www.seavixen.org/sea-vixen-drone-d3-era

      "So FR came up with something called a Universal Drone Pack (UDP) and all the avionic modules for the remote control were on a rack slid onto the ejector seat rails in the Observers position."

      Good point. It had not occurred to me that ejector seat rails on military aircraft are quite standardized, so you could replace it by a rack of hardware that sits in the cockpit and (fairly easily) transfer it to other aircraft afterward.

      Unfortunately apart from converting a combat aircraft into a drone relatively easily I cannot think of any other uses.

      Quick testing of a new kind of sensor (especially if it needs to see the sky) without having to fit it into a pod? Some sort of sat comms ?

      All sounds a bit far fetched. A neat hack but not actually that useful.

      Anyone else have any ideas?

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again

        'All sounds a bit far fetched. A neat hack but not actually that useful.'

        I think it was mainly as you say to convert combat aircraft into drones. Although the UK programme never really got anyway beyond a couple of Sea Vixens there were aspirations to convert a lot more and a number of retired Lightnings as targets. The USN and USAF have done this and converted a few hundred F-4 Phantoms to drones for missile test purposes, and they've now moved on to high mileage F-16s, so some sort of UDP may have sold to them although I don't think that's the route they've taken.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again

          "I think it was mainly as you say to convert combat aircraft into drones. Although the UK programme never really got anyway beyond a couple of Sea Vixens there were aspirations to convert a lot more and a number of retired Lightnings as targets. The USN and USAF have done this and converted a few hundred F-4 Phantoms to drones for missile test purposes, and they've now moved on to high mileage F-16s, so some sort of UDP may have sold to them although I don't think that's the route they've taken."

          I do love the convenience of the concept. It's just so neat. It put me in mind of the "Q hatch" in the U2. Just a rectangular tunnel running top to bottom behind the pilot you could insert whatever you wanted (usually, but not always a camera package of some kind, with one looking at the stars to get a precise location) into. In principal the cockpit environment is a bit more hospitable in terms of temperature and humidity than inside a wing mounted pod and the visibility to the sky is much better, hence my thoughts of sat comms.

          Oh well.

  16. Milton Silver badge

    BS detector activated

    Sorry, I have to call BS on this, and I don't suppose I'm the only one. The physical bot-in-the-seat (let's call him Otto?) must have at least as many inputs available as would any built-in system. It must be able to make at least as many outputs (control actions) as a human pilot, but why would you limit it to human-only capability, when built-in software can do so much more all at once? And Otto's software cannot be less complex than a built-in system: it has to be more complex because it requires extra code for running otherwise pointless servos and pressure sensors and wotnot. Plus, if it even needs to be said, why waste an entire seat for machinery, when you can have built-in systems and two seats available for humans?

    And let's not enquire what happens when Otto sees—if he even can see—a runway incursion ahead, where a human pilot would hit TOGA as a brainstem reflex?

    So logically this makes sense only as a "dare", per the headline, with perhaps some peripheral learning opportunities. But no one with half a brain would create and install Otto as a right-seater when you can build in better (and cheaper, I'd guess) embedded systems. Perhaps the real exploration is looking into general-purpose robotic systems capable of replacing humans for certain highly rules-based tasks? In that context this fanciful test might make a little more sense.

    Unless, of course, the F-35 program is in such dire trouble that ancient, pre-software planes are going to be dusted off for service? It'll be something to see: squadrons of alpha-version terminators clanking as they board old century-series fighters in the desert ...

  17. FelixReg

    Ooops

    About 1:11 it seems old Otto kinda bumped the yoke without meaning to. True?

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Ooops

      Yeah, I noticed that too... setting the air brake by pushing it into a dive..

  18. Aqua Marina
    Black Helicopters

    Could anyone enlighten me why the plane has a yoke and a joystick? I would have thought it was one or t'other?

  19. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Recursive piloting

    How long before this robot is sat on the ground 'flying' a machine that is 'flying' a drone?

  20. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
    Coat

    Wrong acronym

    Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS)

    Shouldn't that be ALICAS? Has a certain ring to it...

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Wrong acronym

      I never understood this obsession with acronyms anyway...

      Signed, Supreme Head of Interoffice Talks

  21. viscount

    I assume the robot is the one on the left of the photograph, in which case it is very impressive indeed.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      No, I think it is the one on the right, where a seat should be.

  22. Alien8n Silver badge

    Easy to fly

    The 737 is actually remarkably easy to fly, with even minimal training. Had the pleasure of several hours in a 737 simulator at Gatwick prior to it being shipped off to Seattle, most of it is automated but I was surprised by just how easy it was to land. That said that was under perfect conditions, not sure I'd be quite so successful given more adverse weather conditions.

  23. slimshady76
    FAIL

    I feel truly deceived by this post.

    I call clickbait! I came to this post expecting a shot from Airplane! and found a stupid robot arm sitting by a human.

    This is how the notice should have been illustrated:

    http://filmfanatic.org/reviews/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/Blowjob2.JPG

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I feel truly deceived by this post.

      Even though I know what the pic will be, there's no way I'm following that URL...

      Office 'net filters blowing up everywhere :)

  24. CraPo

    Is it just me...

    Or does this remind anyone else of Scutters?

  25. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Happy

    Ryanair

    How long before Michael O'Leary says he wants robots for his flight decks?

    One could argue that he already thinks he is employing robot crew

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    *yawn*

    The civil service has had robots controlling robots controlling drones forever. Wake me up when they work out how to make them have interesting conversations at dinner parties.

    Also....

    AAAAAAAAARGH SKYNET IS COMING! Etc...

  27. EveryTime Silver badge

    It's DARPA -- they have earned the right to do 'pointless' research

    My first reaction was the same as others -- "why not just include the functionality in the avionics?"

    Then I thought about why so many private planes had only half century old avionics installed, and a Garmin GPS temporarily mounted. The GPS was very expensive compared to identical spec units used for driving, but still vastly less expensive than properly installing and integrating approved avionics. Plus the typical pilot can easily buy a just-released far better unit every few years and leave the older GPS around as a back-up.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok...

    But can it have a crafty fag in the first class toilets? How much gin does it burn per hour? Thats the real cost saving.

  29. Black Rat

    I feel sorry for the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, this will drive them nuts

  30. bobajob12
    Terminator

    Nice job

    As a proof of concept, it's pretty cool. Still has challenges, but DARPA is at least if not more about the art of the possible as appearing-now-in-stores product.

    People who fly commercial planes think of themselves as having special skills (skills that justify lots of training and largish salaries). I don't take a position on that. I do predict that in a few years time there will be an absolutely brutal fight between commercial pilots and airlines when the latter try to introduce this technology into regular flights. People kind of write off working class occupations displaced by technology (no one cares about truckers being automated away) but middle-class jobs elicit howls of anguish. Steel yourself.

    It certainly doesn't help that since 9/11 commercial pilots barely interact with the passengers any more, and the flying experience is more like riding a bus every day. In that environment, the public may conclude that an automaton or a remote pilot can drive the bus just as well as Captain Yeager up there behind the magic steel door.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice job

      But then what happens when crap happens such as those occasional bouts of severe turbulence, an urgency like Qantas Flight 30 (when the air cylinder blew and cause a depressurization), or even an emergency like the multiple bird strikes that forced down US Airways Flight 1549 and took a very quick-thinking pilot to think about ditching in the Hudson River?

      IOW, for at least the forseeable future, you can probably take ONE pilot out of the cockpit but not both because machines still have trouble dealing with Murphy.

      1. bobajob12

        Re: Nice job

        If the airlines want it badly enough, they can make it happen. And the airlines *hate* the pilots (more accurately, the pilots' union). Big salaries, publically vocal, nice pensions, strict limits on hours, it's enough to make your average Airline Wall Street CEO quite grumpy.

        I can see autonomous systems aiding the pilot/co-pilot first, then the co-pilot goes and is replaced by automation with ground based pilot backup (like a drone operator) and then eventually the pilot is either gone or converted into a glorified bus driver. I don't particularly welcome this scenario (for the reasons you cite) but airlines will do anything to save money, and pilots are one of the few highly-paid, highly skilled unionized workforces out there, and certain political classes would just love to break that one up.

  31. IGnatius T Foobar
    FAIL

    rubbish

    Was the "robot" flying the plane without instruments or was it just tracking the airport's localizer? The latter is unimpressive and the airplane can already do that by itself.

  32. CentralCoasty
    Alert

    And the OS is?

    Sorry, cant resist it, but when they get to production level will they ship with M$ XP?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great

    Now the good folks in 1st class can dine with the Captain, like they do on a cruise.

    "Who's the first officer Captain?"

    "No it's WATTS" on first.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great

      No, What's on SECOND. I Don't Know's on THIRD.

  34. Disgruntled of TW

    Nice beaver ...

    Will this device be able to stuff it itself?

  35. baron

    First congratulations to the programmers for this achievement.

    Now, when I read the headline, I figured the robot was actually flying the plane by hand. It was using the autopilot. Big deal. So it spun an airspeed dial and pulled the throttles back to reverse. The plane already has an auto-land and used it to land the plane. That is where the real work is.

    I will say, its going to be a real long time before the general public will take an airliner with 160 passengers without two pilots. Two pilots are their to make sure that each decision that is made is a good decision. One brain fart, or bad decision could kill a lot of people. Look at how many times planes have landed at the wrong airport. And, that's with two pilots!

    Andy

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Some would say a machine would make a better second opinion than a human, as pilots tend to become chummy, causing confirmation bias. Much harder to do with a machine, particularly one programmed outside the pilot's control.

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