DARPA Just Showed Off Its New Autonomous Helicopter, and It Works Like a Dream

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 - 12:18PM
Technology
Military Tech
Robotics
Wednesday, 31 October 2018 - 12:18PM
DARPA Just Showed Off Its New Autonomous Helicopter, and It Works Like a Dream
< >
Screenshot: YouTube/DARPA
With all the hype surrounding self-driving cars, self-driving helicopters were inevitable, right? Well, not quite. Though DARPA demonstrated its new autonomous helicopter at Fort Eustis recently, it emphasizes that the system (called ALIAS, short for 'Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System') is not based on artificial intelligence and not meant to replace human pilots.

Instead, ALIAS is meant to be an all-in-one co-pilot that can handle the flying while combat or rescue pilots make the hard decisions and focus on the mission at hand. If need be, ALIAS can also handle landing, taking off, and even 'contour flight,' which allows the craft to fly close to the ground. Co-built by Sikorsky, the helicopter itself is called the "Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft," and can be operated using a simplified joystick or a tablet-like interface that inputs commands for the craft to carry out. According to DARPA program manager Graham Drozeski: "It can fly routes, it can plan routes, it can execute emergency procedures - and it can do all that perfectly."

The recent test at Ft. Eustis was the first time it was shown to Army pilots, but despite concerns over whether outside operators would be able to adapt to the system, everything went smoothly. According to Igor Cherepinsky, the director of autonomy at Sikorsky, "...we also had a non-pilot with all of 45 minutes of training take the aircraft up and operate for almost an hour."

Though it can be turned on to handle basic tasks like landing, the system is always on, enabling it to course-correct when it detects that the aircraft is going to collide with something that the pilot doesn't notice (officially called "Controlled Flight Into Terrain," which sounds much more dignified). Despite deep-learning AI being adapted for multiple pieces of military tech, the DARPA and Sikorsky team decided to stick with something much more simple: whenever the ALIAS system detects something, it always responds the same way. Though this ostensibly means programming it ahead of time with a lot of responses, it's the only way to ensure that the craft can meet safety standards...and not end up going haywire in the middle of a combat zone.

Science
Science News
Technology
Military Tech
Robotics
No