Robotics and the future of aviation - 3 examples of robot pilots

Bridging The Gap Between UAV's and Autopilot Systems

unmanned robot aircraft

These days we have UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and drones that fly with no human on-board and we also have autopilot systems that allow the aircraft to fly autonomously according to set guidelines.

UAV’s need to be designed from the ground up and the autopilot system has limitations as pilots are usually required to manually perform take off and landing maneuvers.

Bridging this gap requires a robot and behold....the humans have actually developed a few robot kits that can be inserted in the pilots seat without requiring any physical modifications to the aircraft - effectively turning the aircraft into an unmanned aircraft.

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Back to our pilot bots.....

PIBOT - Humanoid Pilot Robot

PIBOT-humanoid pilot robot

Introducing PIBOT or Pilot Robot! 

PIBOT is a humanoid robot that can be inserted into the pilot seat of an existing aircraft or (even a car) to the replace the pilot.

Researchers and engineers at the Unmanned System Research Group (USRG) from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a human-scale robot to replace a pilot in an aircraft. The robot has four 6-DOF actuators that would control the aircraft controls just like a human would. PIBOT also has a vision sensor and the software is designed to automate the flight operation from take-off to landing.

This technology is still in its infant stages but USRG has already demonstrated a working model robot in a simulation system and can operate all aspects of flight including take-off and landing. 

Training human pilots can be very costly and skills/knowledge between pilots are not transferable.

A robots brain and “skills” can be upgraded, transferred and tweaked without much cost to the operator. The robots can also be sent into disaster and dangerous fly zones without actually putting human lives in danger.

According to USRG, PIBOT can successfully land an aircraft in its simulators 80% of the time.

Perhaps in the future, PIBOT with its humanoid form can also walk itself to an aircraft and insert itself without the help of humans.


Here's the latest news from USRG. They are doing some incredible work with unmanned vehicles, autonomous cars and study of robotics controls.


Side note:

USRG is currently in partnership with CoSTAR from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and they have formed CoSTAR which is currently competing on DARPA's Subterranean Challenge. CoSTAR achieved second place in the first leg of the challenge.

ROBO Pilot Kit for USAF

us air force pilot robot

The United States Air Force has successfully created a robot pilot “kit” or an Unmanned Conversion Program that can be inserted into any aircraft turning it into an unmanned aircraft.

The air force successfully conducted the first 2 hour long flight using ROBO Pilot in a small Cessna aircraft. The test flight required the robot to perform take-off, several maneuvers within a guided route and and landing.

Like the USRG PIBOT system, ROBO Pilot also uses robotic actuators to gab control of the yoke and rudder controls to manually fly an aircraft like a human would. ROBO Pilot has cameras and sensors that allow it to monitor and receive feedback from the dials of the aircraft dashboard.

The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with DYZNE Technologies to create ROBO pilot and plan further test the system before the government can allow it to pilot larger and more expensive aircraft than the Cessna.

Robot Co-pilot Kit for DARPA

In 2017, Aurora Flight Sciences with Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) demonstrated robot pilot system called ALIAS in a Boeing 737 flight simulator.

ALIAS which is Aircrew Labor in Cockpit Automation System acts as a co-pilot in an aircraft.  The system also functions as a drop-in removable kit that would add high level automation into existing aircraft enabling flights with reduced crew members.

ALIAS has demonstrated its ability to successfully autonomously land a Boeing 737 aircraft in the event of pilot passing out and also numerous other scenarios in a Diamond DA42, Cessna 208 Caravan and also the DHC-2 Beaver Aircraft.

The ALIAS solution uses on board camera system with machine vision, robotic actuation arms and an advanced user interface screen. Aurora Flight Sciences is also currently working on a version of ALIAS that does not have robotics arms but instead monitors the aircraft systems while updating the pilots and improving situational awareness.


Perhaps we can see these robot systems eliminating the physical actuators and motors and instead have the robots connect directly to the flight computer using USB connection. However, aircraft computers would need to be modified to accept inputs from the USB connection.

Hope you liked the article and we will leave you with this bionic bird.

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