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With an eye to taking autonomous flight to the next level, the US Air Force has awarded a contract to Reliable Robotics to study how to turn multi-engine transport jets into robotic aircraft that can handle all aspects of a flight by themselves, from taxi to landing.
For understandable reasons, we tend to think of the armed forces strictly in terms of being fighting units that exist to blaze away on the battlefield. In reality, modern warfare is so mechanized and so complex that they’re more like huge supply chains that occasionally do a bit of shooting at one end.
One key component for the United States and its global military commitments is its fleet of transport planes, including the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. These provide the US Air Force with the ability to deliver soldiers and their equipment anywhere in the world in short order and keep them supplied indefinitely.
However, it is an extremely expensive capability to achieve and maintain, and it often means sending air crews into dangerous areas where they may encounter hostile anti-aircraft weaponry. It also requires a large number of pilots, who do not come cheap and are invariably in short supply.
To counter this, the Air Force has hired Reliable Robotics to look into automating existing cargo aircraft. The idea isn’t new, but adapting the technology to large multi-engine jet transports flying military supply missions adds another level of complexity.
If the concept works, it will allow the Air Force to improve its cargo missions without the need for training more pilots or building new aircraft. It will also introduce a new level of potential safety because, with improved artificial intelligence systems, autonomous flight computers will be better able to respond to some emergencies thanks to their ability to immediately calculate alternative flight paths, where a human pilot would have to rely on intuition.
The new contract is aimed at producing autonomous flight systems that can handle all aspects of flight, from taxiing to take off to landing, with humans needed only for remote supervision. It will also allow for more precise navigation and more robust flight controls as well as a better ability to manage the aircraft in a variety of environmental conditions.
“We value the Air Force as an essential mission partner,” said Dr. David O’Brien, Major General (Ret.), and Senior Vice President of Government Solutions at Reliable Robotics. “Our vision is to provide remote piloting capability to a wide variety of aircraft. This contract furthers our focus on automation of large, multi-engine jet aircraft, which is an important step in our developmental roadmap.”
Source: Reliable Robotics