Call it the ultimate auto-pilot - an automated system that can help take care of all phases of aircraft flight-even perhaps helping pilots overcome system failures in-flight.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will in May detail a new program called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) that would build upon what the agency called the considerable advances that have been made in aircraft automation systems over the past 50 years, as well as the advances made in remotely piloted aircraft automation, to help reduce pilot workload, augment mission performance and improve aircraft safety.
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Airliners and military aircraft in particular have evolved over a period of decades to have ever more automated capabilities, improving mission success and safety. At the same time, these aircraft still present challenging and complex interfaces to operators, and despite demanding training regimens, operators can experience extreme workload during emergencies and other unexpected situations. Avionics and software upgrades can help, but can cost tens of millions of dollars per aircraft, which limits the rate of developing, testing and fielding new automation capabilities for those aircraft, DARPA stated.
"Our goal is to design and develop a full-time automated assistant that could be rapidly adapted to help operate diverse aircraft through an easy-to-use operator interface," said Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager in a statement. "These capabilities could help transform the role of pilot from a systems operator to a mission supervisor directing intermeshed, trusted, reliable systems at a high level."
As an automation system, ALIAS would execute a planned mission from takeoff to landing, even in the face of contingency events such as aircraft system failures. The ALIAS system would include persistent state monitoring and rapid procedure recall and would provide a potential means to further enhance flight safety. Easy-to-use touch and voice interfaces could enable supervisor-ALIAS interaction, DARPA stated.
DARPA outlined the ALIAS three key technical thrust areas, which include:
1. Minimally invasive interfaces from ALIAS to existing aircraft: It is anticipated that the ALIAS system would need to operate aircraft functions to provide automated operation. Systems generally confined to the cockpit would support the vision of portability.
2. Knowledge acquisition on aircraft operations: To support adaptation of the ALIAS toolkit across different aircraft in a short amount of time, it is anticipated the ALIAS system would benefit from the use of existing host aircraft procedural information, existing flight mechanics information or models, or other methods of rapidly developing requisite aircraft information.
3. Human-machine interfaces: A vision for ALIAS is that the human operator provides high‐level input consistent with replanning and mission‐level supervision and is not engaged in lower‐level flight maintenance tasks that demand constant vigilance.
The ALIAS Proposers' Day will be held on Wednesday, May 14, at the DARPA Conference Center in Arlington, VA. For more information go here.
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