Automated flight capabilities engineered by Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA) have been demonstrated with various successful flight scenarios in a Boeing 737 simulator. The technology was developed as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)'s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. These accomplishments build on Aurora's successful installation and testing of ALIAS components on a Diamond DA42, Cessna 208 Caravan, UH-1 Iroquois and DHC-2 Beaver aircraft.
The ALIAS technology demonstration system is designed to function as a second pilot in a two-crew aircraft, enabling reduced crew operations while ensuring that aircraft performance and mission success are maintained or improved. According to DARPA, ALIAS is intended as "a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew."
Demonstrated on a Boeing 737-800NG simulator at the U.S. Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA, ALIAS showcased its ability to utilize the existing 737 auto-landing system to autonomously land the aircraft safely in the event of pilot incapacitation. The system has also been demonstrated numerous times on aircraft in flight, most recently on the DA42 when ALIAS actualized cockpit procedures in real time and, overseen by an onboard safety pilot, conducted a fully automated landing at a simulated site at 3,000 ft. in altitude.
ALIAS technology includes the use of in-cockpit machine vision, robotic components to actuate the flight controls, an advanced tablet-based user interface, speech recognition and synthesis, and a knowledge acquisition process that facilitates transition of the automation system to another aircraft within a 30-day period. Aurora is also working on a version of the system without robotic actuation that instead aims to support the pilot by tracking aircraft physical, procedural and mission states, increasing safety by actively updating pilot situational awareness.