DARPA's new autopilot can replace a five-member flight crew

Credit: DARPA

Your average plane's autopilot isn't quite what you'd call an intelligent member of the crew. Designed to keep your aircraft at level flight, it usually isn't capable of any maneuvers more complex than continuing on in a straight line. While autopilots do actually exist that can complete maneuvers as complex as landing the plane, even those systems aren't smart enough to handle the sorts of situations military aircraft handle on a regular basis.

With the military currently paring down its active troop levels, DARPA has developed a drop-in autopilot that can take the place of up to five human crew members at a time. Aircraft will still need a human pilot, but he or she will actually act more like a mission commander. The system is called ALIAS, which stands for Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, and it's designed for quick swapping from aircraft to aircraft.

That means that when your flying fortress can't get off the ground in time for an evacuation, you can pull the ALIAS system, hop in a Black Hawk (which you may or may not know how to fly), and the autopilot will get you airborne and out of hostile airspace while you command it from a touchscreen interface. If you're not quite quick enough to evade the enemy upon takeoff, ALIAS can even compensate for equipment failures mid-flight. It's one step away from a drone, but what we like best about ALIAS is that it incorporates a human pilot who can act on instinct and intuition.

DARPA, via Wired

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