RMIT University has signed an agreement with Boeing to commence a collaborative research project on the challenges faced with today’s highly autonomous systems.
This three-year research program will address the issues surrounding human interaction with machines as well as the safety and regulation of autonomous aircraft systems.
In the cockpits of most of our modern commercial passenger aircraft, there are already sophisticated autonomous systems that can take control of an aircraft from take-off to touch down at the push of a button.
Dr Reece Clothier, senior lecturer at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering said there has been a trend towards higher degrees of automation in society, and this movement extends to the aircraft industry.
“As the level and complexity of the autonomous systems in cockpits and air traffic control rooms increase, so too does the challenge of verifying them as safe,“ said Dr Clothier.
“At the far extreme, you can imagine a future where aircraft are capable of thinking and behaving like a pilot and require minimal to no human supervision.“
Dr Clothier suggested that the fictional computer HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey or more recently the autonomous aircraft "EDI" from the movie Stealth were both good examples of the level of autonomy that could one day exist.
Whilst we are not at the level of autonomy yet, there are still unique challenges as to how to ensure that systems of intermediate levels of autonomy are indeed safe.
The partnership with Boeing Research and Technology Australia also includes involvement from researchers at the University of Newcastle.
As part of the research, they will undertake various experiments to determine how pilots and air traffic controllers interact with the autonomous systems, and they will explore new methods for certification.
The project will make use of RMIT's new Air Traffic Management, Autonomous Systems, and Human Factors Laboratory which will be commissioned in early 2014.