Aviation Industry Insights - Robotics and Autonomy
Autonomy and robotics are used widely in the aviation industry, especially for defense and civilian purposes. Autonomous systems are being studied and advanced concerning drones and even traditional warplanes; robotic dexterity allows AI systems to control an actual airplane cockpit like a human pilot. Autonomy is also important in the operations of airports around the world. These points and more are discussed below.
- Developers of autonomous systems are mitigating and minimizing risks in aviation by putting limits on machine-learning systems instead of making them fully autonomous. This safeguard would be put in place for unsafe flight conditions and high-risk scenarios.
- Thanks to new funding, new manned-unmanned projects make up 8% of all new projects in the different parts of the military, including the Air Force.
- The Army is now focusing on solving technical problems when controlling vehicles remotely. The new systems are set to help controllers make decisions quicker than fully-manned missions.
- DARPA has developed a system called CODE (Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment) that leverages collaborative autonomy to navigate drones that can find, track, identify, and engage targets without much human involvement.
- Before, UAVs would revert to the last programmed mission if operators lost communication, but with CODE, multiple teams of systems can share information and collaborate to adapt and respond to threats wherever they are.
- Transparency is very important in trusted autonomy as it influences trust. If a human can't understand why a machine made an action and vice versa, then the whole system falls apart.
- When engineers are designing an autonomous system, they have to understand what will make a user trust it.
- Researchers at an Australian University are building and testing a system that adapts to the cognitive needs of human operators by determining their state of fatigue, stress levels, attention, workload, and level of trust. This system has neuro-physical sensors that allow the machines to infer the cognitive state of the human operators and adapt.
- At an airport in Sweden, autonomous vehicles were tested for the first time to do tasks at the airport such as clearing snow to keep runway edge lights clear. This prevents runways from getting closed down due to 15% or more of the lights being non-operational.
- Even though robotic perception is not yet up to human perception, robots are currently being used in airports around the world to help passengers navigate widespread terminals and to answer pressing questions.
- One of these robots that is being used and developed right now is Spencer (Social situation-aware PErceptioN and action for CognitivE Robots). Because of perception, the robot was able to scan boarding passes and adjust its speed to that of the group while guiding a group of passengers to their departure gate and avoiding obstacles.
- A Carnegie Mellon spin-off company, RE2 Robotics, which has experience in building bomb disposal robots, was commissioned by the United States Air Force to develop the Common Aircraft Retrofit for Novel Autonomous Control (CARNAC) system. This system is being used to replace real pilots for unmanned operations.
- CARNAC has been successful so far as a system has been built that is capable of takeoff, normal flight, responding to emergencies, and landing.
- The Air Force has been involved in other robotic flight projects, such as the ROBOpilot project, which has been able to make a successful flight of a civilian airplane over Utah. The ROBOpilot works like a human by physically taking the yoke and flipping switches and pressing buttons.
Grasping and manipulation
- Researchers are currently developing micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) that use grasping and manipulation methods to perch and hold on to objects.
- In one experiment, researchers went against the common methodology of using a fixed reference frame to identify objects and used a method called visual servoing. This is a better method as it helps with objects that are difficult to grasp such as cylinders and moving objects, even though much more research is needed where that is concerned.
AI and robotics for the aviation industry
- Cobots, or co-robots, can interact with people in multiple languages and are used to help passengers find their way in airports and save time.
- AI-powered robots are also being used to help patients transport their luggage. At Frankfurt Airport, they tested out a robot called YAPE that helped passengers with their small luggage and guided them to their respective gates. Passengers were also able to interact with the robots via a phone app.