Speed Bumps on the Road to Vehicle Automation

Supply Chain @ MIT

Unmanned cockpits a long way off? Unmanned cockpits a long way off?

The tragic loss of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps has galvanized discussions about pilotless aircraft, and whether we have the technology to safely replace humans with computers in the cockpit.

In broad terms the answer is yes, we do have the technology, but of course the route to full automation in passenger planes – and for that matter in cars and trucks too – is far from straight. To find answers we need to look at the journey rather than the destination.

Passenger aircraft are already heavily automated; computers handle even the trickiest segments of a flight when the plane is taking off and landing. In fact, in today’s modern jetliners, a pilot action – such as turning the yoke – simply activates the computerized controls of ailerons, stabilizers, spoilers, slats, rudder, elevators, flaps and thrust, such that the desired maneuver can…

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