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A robot landed a plane, and nothing bad happened

May 19th, 2017 at 12:53 PM
robot pilot

We joke a lot about the eventual robot apocalypse — when mankind will inevitably be enslaved by our very own creations and forced to serve under machine overlords — but the reality is that right now, robots are probably more trustworthy than humans. They can’t be bribed, they aren’t inherently evil, and they behave in a predictable and exact manner the vast majority of the time. That’s why DARPA’s ALIAS robot might end up in airplane cockpits sooner rather than later, and if the most recent test of the hardware is any indication, everything is going to be just fine.

ALIAS, which stands for Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automated System, is a robot built to be a co-pilot. I performs all the tasks a co-pilot would, and is designed to allow for a reduced number of human crew members for flights.

A demonstration, which used a Boeing 737 simulator at a center in Massachusetts, showed that ALIAS is already up to the task, and was able to accurately maneuver the virtual plane both in flight and during landing. The bot used machine vision technology and a robotic arm to physically manipulate the various knobs, levers, and buttons in the complicated cockpit. It perfectly demonstrated its ability to control speed, adjust the airplane’s flaps, control the throttle, activate reverse thrusters, and do everything a trained veteran pilot would do to safely land the aircraft.

Eventually, DARPA hopes that ALIAS will be something that can be put to use in several different scenarios, including military missions where it could offer a precise and unshakable level of performance even in the most stressful scenarios.

Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech.

Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today,, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.

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