Boeing’s takeover of Virginia-based Aurora Flight Sciences promises to keep the U.S. aviation giant a step ahead in the race to make flight more accessible and less dependent on human operators.
It turns out the flying cars that science fiction movies have been promising for decades may not be that far away from becoming a reality after all. The technology was never really the problem (working prototypes have been around since the 1940s).
Trusting the average human to pilot a car in rush hour traffic was always a bit of a sticking point, but a growing reliance on autonomous aircraft may soon make concerns about human error much less of an obstacle for flying machines that quickly deliver people and merchandise short, medium and long distances on only a moment’s notice.
Boeing’s acquisition of Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences is a strong signal that autonomous machines, in some form or another, will be the future of flight. While Boeing officials are banking on the new partnership, there is little doubt that the aviation conglomerate expects a bit more than just flying cars to come from the pricey venture.
“Since its inception, Aurora has been focused on the development of innovative aircraft that leverage autonomy to make aircraft smarter,” Aurora founder and CEO John Langford said in a statement announcing the takeover by Boeing. “As an integral part of Boeing, our pioneered technologies of long-endurance aircraft, robotic co-pilots, and autonomous electric VTOLs [vertical take-off and landing] will be transitioned into world-class products for the global infrastructure.”
It isn’t as if Boeing hasn’t been investing in autonomous technology before now. In June, the company announced that it was only a matter of time before real-world testing of pilotless passenger planes is underway. A year prior, arch-rival Airbus announced the planned test of a driverless flying taxi. Meanwhile, in Dubai, flying passenger drones are set to ferry office workers to appointments across town.
For now, Boeing has indicated that it will fold promising research and technology from freshly acquired Aurora into several ongoing projects already on the runway at Boeing.
“The combined strength and innovation of our teams will advance the development of autonomy for our commercial and military systems,” Boeing CTO Greg Hyslop explained. “Together, these talented teams will open new markets with transformational technologies.”