The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or simply known as DARPA is part of the US Department of Defense. It develops a wide range of things from robotic arms for surgical purposes to autonomous drones. Well, its latest ambition is developing an autopilot system, and if this video is any indication, it looks like autonomous military planes aren’t too far from reality.
Autopilot system on a turboprop plane
As you can see from the latest demonstration, DARPA’s autopilot system may not be too far from being employed in military aircrafts. An aviation company named Aurora Flight Sciences is using the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (or simply known as ALIAS) to develop an advanced system that flies military planes on its own.
Essentially, the ALIAS uses a robotic arm and an advanced tablet with speech recognition and a “knowledge acquisition” process, and it acts like a co-pilot in charge of flying the plane when installed. This means that the aircraft can be operated without anyone on board, or if there is someone on the aircraft, he or she can do other things other than being in charge of flying such as detecting potential threats or updating logistical plans.
DARPA and Aurora have already tested this technology a few times in the past, but this is the first time that they have shown the autopilot system running on a turboprop aircraft – a Cessna Caravan turboprop plane to be specific. This means that Aurora’s ALIAS technology has been successfully demonstrated on three separate aircrafts in less than twelve months.
Next project for DARPA and Aurora?
Under Phase II of Aurora’s ALIAS project, it looks like planes won’t be the only thing involved. According to the company, it is in the process of installing the ALIAS technology into a Bell UH-1 helicopter. John Wissler, Aurora’s Vice President of R&D, believes that these endeavors “will prove the viability of [the] system for both military and commercial applications.”