Aurora Flight Sciences has been awarded a contract to work on Phase I of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) aircrew labour in-cockpit automation system (ALIAS) programme.
ALIAS programme seeks development of a tailorable and portable hardware and software kit that would facilitate the addition of high levels of automation into a wide variety of existing military and civilian aircraft. This would enable operation with reduced onboard crew.
Under the $6m contract, the company will develop an automated assistant that can operate an aircraft from takeoff to landing.
It will automatically execute the necessary flight and mission activities, checklists and procedures at the correct phases of flight, while detecting and responding to contingencies.
The human pilot would be continuously informed through an intuitive interface of which actions the automation is executing, and would be able to take back control if so desired.
Aurora ALIAS programme manager Dr Jessica Duda said: "The ability to reassign cockpit roles, allowing humans to perform tasks best suited to humans and automation to perform tasks best suited to automation, represents a potential paradigm shift compared to how flight operations are currently conducted.
"One of our key challenges is to develop a system that creates trust between the pilot and the automated assistant."
Aurora Research Programmes vice-president Dr Javier de Luis said: "Successful introduction of such a system would help improve pilot performance and reduce individual workload, while also providing significant cost savings in the form of simplified training and lower crew costs.
"Because of its portability, its defined interfaces, and its open architecture system, I expect ALIAS to have broad applications across a wide range of both military and civilian transport systems."
The programme is expected to culminate in a robust demonstration that will start with ground-based development and demonstration of a prototype system with one aircraft type.
This will advance to a proof-of-concept flight test involving porting the system to a different aircraft type.
Aurora’s industry team includes the National Robotics Engineering Center and the Duke Engineering Research Institute.
Image: ALIAS programme seeks development of a tailorable software and hardware kit that would facilitate the addition of high levels of automation into the existing military aircraft. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.