Reuters reports that starting next year, Boeing will begin trials in a simulator to evaluate an artificial intelligence system designed to potentially replace airline pilots.
The idea of a self-flying passenger plane has been around for decades, but the limits of a typical air traveler’s imagination and comfort zone might not be advancing quite as rapidly as new technology. With self-driving cars and autonomous flying drones becoming more and more prolific, aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing plans to be ready should the flying public ever signal a willingness to board a pilotless commercial airline flight.
“The basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available,” Boeing VP of Development Mike Sinnett told Reuters this week. Sinnett told the wire service that he will personally use a flight simulator by next year to test an “artificial intelligence that makes decisions that pilots would make.”
Autopilots on today’s commercial jetliners are already capable of taking off, landing and even autocorrecting in response to in-flight emergencies. Until now, however, taking the human factor completely out of the equation has not received much serious discussion as a practical consideration.
Of course, Boeing isn’t the only company quietly working to make airline pilots obsolete.
Boeing’s experiments involving a fully autonomous aircraft will come nearly three years after a pilotless passenger plane was first live-tested at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) facility in New York. The flight test of the twin engine aircraft named Centaur, which relies on remote piloting rather than advanced AI, was viewed as an unequivocal success by both engineers and regulators.
As with strides towards self-driving cars and the ever multiplying number of remote-controlled unmanned aircraft, regulations governing unmanned passenger flights remain years behind the existing technology that could someday make pilotless passenger jets an everyday reality.