Aurora demonstrates autonomous co-pilot technology

Posted on 23 Oct 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

US-based aerospace company Aurora Flight Sciences has demonstrated a new autonomous co-pilot system.

Last week Aurora showed off their technology autonomously flying two separate two-pilot light aircraft.

The system itself was developed as part of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program.

Already the ALIAS system has been demonstrated to be able to fly a Cessna Caravan and a Diamond DA-42, with the supervision of a human co-pilot.

The primary purpose of DARPA’s ALIAS program is to develop systems which can reduce the workload for human pilots and increase overall performance.

It aims to build on the significant developments in recent years in UAVs and remotely piloted craft, in order to create a system which can be installed across a number of different airframes.

Should the program be successful, it would not just increase safety and performance, but also help the US military reduce its increasing personnel costs.

Aurora’s technology, which it has been demonstrating, sits within the cockpit itself, taking up much of the space which would otherwise have been occupied by a co-pilot.

“ALIAS enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats or even updating logistical plans,” said John Wissler, Aurora’s vice president of R&D.

ALIAS makes use of similar technologies to self driving cars, including machine vision, as well as robotic arms in order to pilot an aircraft when necessary.

Additionally, the system interfaces with the human pilot through both voice commands and a tablet computer.

Soon Aurora plans to move beyond fixed wing aircraft and install their ALIAS system within a Bell UH-1 helicopter.

Aurora also sees the ALIAS system as having utility in the private aviation sector.

“Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications,” said John Wissler.

Separately, competing aerospace company Sikorsky is working on its own solution for ALIAS, however it is unclear how their progress compares to that of Aurora.