Will This Software Make Pilots Obsolete?
Pentagon wants to turn pilots into ‘supervisors’
Fly on an airline today and chances are that most of the flight will be under the control of software rather than a human being with his hands on a stick.
But it’s still unsettling to read the Pentagon’s new plan for an aircraft control system that the military says will turn pilots into mere “supervisors.”
The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System project is the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s advanced technology organization.
DARPA describes ALIAS as a “tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would enable the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft to enable operation with reduced on-board crew.”
ALIAS would “execute a planned mission from takeoff to landing, even in the face of contingency events such as aircraft system failures.”
If the computer can handle everything from takeoff to landing, as well as deal with aircraft system malfunctions, then what exactly is left for the pilot to do?
Become a computer operator with a license to fly, is what. “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,” said Daniel Patt, the DARPA program manager.
DARPA is focusing on three key factors to make ALIAS work. One is fitting ALIAS to existing aircraft. Another is developing a database of the aircraft that would host the system.
The third factor is probably the most important. ALIAS should have a human-machine interface that will enable the “human operator” to concentrate on high-level mission planning during the flight rather than the routine aspects of flying.
DARPA plans to start with a ground-based system, demonstrate a prototype on one aircraft model, and then port it to another aircraft to prove ALIAS’s flexibility.
Given decades of relentlessly increasing cockpit automation, and that your Amazon package might be delivered by drone someday, a project such as ALIAS was inevitable.
But it’s hard not to remember the famous line from Westworld, the movie in which androids in a theme park go berserk and kill their masters.
Nothing can go wrong.