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Aurora Flight Sciences unveils robotic pilot assistant

Aurora Flight Sciences has unveiled a prototype of a robotic “pilot assistant” that functions as a second-pilot in a two-seat aircraft.

The production version of the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) is in development for military and commercial cockpits, the Manassas, Virginia aerospace technology company says.

On 17 October, Aurora demonstrated the ALIAS by operating a Cessna Caravan under the supervision of a human pilot sitting in the right seat.

Unlike a standard autopilot, the ALIAS is a robotic machine that physically interacts with the aircraft’s flight control inputs, including stick or yoke, rudder pedals and thrust levers.

The ALIAS was funded under a contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was awarded in January 2015.

Aurora has demonstrated the ALIAS as a “drop-in” technology. Before flying the Cessna Caravan, Aurora also installed the system in a simulator and on a Diamond DA-42. The simulator and the DA-42 demonstrations were funded under Phase 1 of the DARPA contract. The Caravan flight was demonstrated under Phase 2.

Aurora is now adapting the system to fit into a Bell UH-1 helicopter to demonstrate ALIAS works in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing applications.

“Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications,” says John Wissler, Aurora’s vice-president of research and development.

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, also demonstrated last June an automated pilot assistant funded under the same DARPA programme. Rather than use a robotic interface, Sikorsky’s version of ALIAS allows a second pilot to operate all flight operations by using a tablet computer.

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