AI Just “Landed” a Boeing 737 for the First Time By Itself

An AI-driven robot has successfully flown and landed a simulated Boeing 737 for the first time.


It’s going to take us a healthy dollop of faith in technology to accept autonomous vehicles at some point on our roadways. But what about in our skies? The thought of robot-driven planes ferrying hundreds of people overhead to their destinations conjures images of metal, fire, and passengers raining down from the skies. Still, proponents of such systems believe autonomous transport of all kinds, including commercial flight, will be less prone to error when humans are removed from the equation. Once the bugs have been worked out, of course.

The U.S. military believe automated aircraft may improve mission safety and success rates, and their Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, has just announced the successful simulated flight and landing of a Boeing 737 by an AI-driven robot co-pilot named ALIAS. “ALIAS” is an acronym for “Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System.”

(AURORA FLIGHT SCIENCES)

DARPA hopes ALIAS can eventually be trusted with the “execution of an entire mission from takeoff to landing, even in the face of contingency events such as aircraft system failures.”

ALIAS was built for DARPA by Aurora Flight Sciences, “a leader in the development and manufacturing of advanced unmanned systems and aerospace vehicles,” according to their website. It goes far beyond existing autopilot systems that are limited to assisting a human pilot in flying a plane in-between the critical takeoff and landing phases. 

ALIAS has, broadly speaking, three components:

  • A camera that can see and read all of the cockpit’s instruments and gauges.
  • AI-driven software that uses machine learning to acquire the knowledge needed to operate the aircraft. It also has access to a database of knowledge gained by other ALIAS installations. 
  • A robotic arm that can operate all of the cockpit’s controls, and thus the plane.
  • (AURORA FLIGHT SCIENCES)

    ALIAS has previously been tested in a real Cessna Caravan.

    (AURORA FLIGHT SCIENCES)

    ALIAS has also flown a Diamond DA42 light aircraft and a Bell UH-1 helicopter.

    Diamond DA42 and Bell UH-1 (DIAMOND AIRCRAFT/BELL HELICOPTER)

    How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

    Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

    Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
    Sponsored
    • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
    • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
    • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
    Keep reading Show less

    Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

    The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

    Michael Drosnin
    Surprising Science
    • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
    • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
    • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
    Keep reading Show less

    5 of the worst inventions in modern history

    Be glad your name isn't attached to any of these bad ideas.

    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
    Technology & Innovation
    • Some inventions can be celebrated during their time, but are proven to be devastating in the long run.
    • The inventions doesn't have to be physical. Complex mathematical creations that create money for Wall Street can do as much damage, in theory, as a gas that destroys the ozone layer.
    • Inventors can even see their creations be used for purposes far different than they had intended.
    Keep reading Show less

    Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

    Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

    (Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
    Surprising Science
    • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
    • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
    • This ability may come from a common ancestor
    Keep reading Show less