The US Air Force is testing a robot that can fly an existing fleet of military aircraft, making them unmanned with minimal modifications.
Electronically controlled autonomous aircraft have been around for a long time, but in addition to them, there are many pieces of aviation technology in operation that require mechanical manipulation. Therefore, the Air Force Research Laboratory, together with DZYNE Technologies, developed the ROBOpilot unmanned piloting system..
Outwardly she does not look like a robot in the traditional sense, since it does not have mechanical arms and legs, but consists of a set of robotic elements fixed on a metal frame. The unit is mounted inside the cab after removing the seats..
Using actuators, sensors, a robotic arm and an autonomous power system, ROBOpilot can control the aircraft stick, adjust the throttle, press the steering wheel, pedals, switches on the dashboard, complying with all civil aviation regulations. The system is also equipped with cameras, so it can react to changes in dials and sensors on the aircraft dashboard.
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To install the robot, use «non invasive» approach, so it can be removed as easily as it can be installed, leaving the aircraft ready to be piloted again.
The first real tests of the ROBOpilot took place at the Utah test site in a small Cessna aircraft. The system successfully controlled the flight for two hours, including takeoff, navigation along a specific route and subsequent landing. However, the robot is not yet completely ready for work, because before installing it on expensive vehicles, the military wants to conduct additional tests..
This approach will help extend the lifespan of a huge number of aircraft, providing the benefits of autonomous flight for technology without risk to pilots..
We previously reported that Airbus unveils a concept aircraft with feathers.
text: Ilya Bauer, photo: Robins Air Force Base