Would you board an unmanned airliner?

Have you ever had a panic attack duringairplane flight time? Those who have visited will tell you that it is sad. There are many reasons on board that cause people to panic. Some of them - completely irrationally - begin to think about the condition of the pilots. Are they tired? Tense? Do they pay enough attention to all the little things? Self-driving trains and cars are already with us. But how soon will unmanned aircraft appear? The biggest problem can be getting passengers to board.

Will these people feel even a little better if we get rid of the pilots at all?

All technologies are already in place - drones are alreadyHow many years. The army uses unmanned aerial vehicles the size of small aircraft to conduct combat operations, where they are controlled remotely or fly along a pre-designated route. Even helicopters can be unmanned, like the K-MAX, which is as large as a regular helicopter and is capable of delivering cargo with high accuracy to dangerous places.

Aircraft crashes are rare today, butwhen they happen, figuring out why this is all is getting harder and harder, says Tim Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Royal Aerospace Aerospace magazine. That is why investigations often focus on “human factors” and try to expose psychological and physiological problems as a possible cause.

"Therefore, if pilots rely on autopilot in95% of modern flights, why not automate the remaining 5% - takeoff and landing? - says Robinson. “Computers fly with ultra-precise repeating paths, they don’t fly drunk, they are tired, they are not distracted and they will be much better than human pilots in the future.”

He says that during the discussion of autonomousAircraft in society at the beginning of this year, in which pilots, engineers, scientists and airline representatives took part, the idea that “in forty years there will be no need for pilots” was supported by 60% of the participants.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) inLas Vegas in January, the Chinese company Ehang introduced the world's first passenger drone Ehang 184, powered by electricity. This quadrocopter can lift one person with a small load and is even equipped with lighting and air conditioning. To fly, the passenger must indicate the flight plan, press "take off" and "sit down" on the tablet, and the rest will be done by the computer. When its propellers are folded, the 184 takes up as much space as a small car.

These are not all attempts to make personal systems.air transport. In the United States, an experimental aircraft with two propellers is designed to carry two passengers. The so-called Centaur made Aurora Flight Sciences Corp, it can be controlled both from the cockpit and from the ground - and during the tests it successfully flew by itself, without people on board.

Airbus Group is working on Vahan, an autonomous“Flying car” for passengers or cargo; in Germany, the Volocopter project hopes to build an “enlarged” version of an UAV capable of carrying one or two people. Another European project, myCopter, deals with the technologies that are needed to develop personal transportation means. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen are still trying to figure out how easier it would be to operate an aircraft, says Heinrich Büllhoff, managing director of the institute.

“We are trying to make the helicopter easier to fly than a car, with almost no training,” he says.

In the UK, a similar study washeld by a consortium of public and private companies called Astraea; in 2013, he received £ 62 million on research on civilian concepts of an unmanned aircraft. The goal was to “research the types of technologies that are needed to integrate UAVs into manned airspace, such as avoidance sensors, secure communications, etc.,” says Robinson.

But whether it's a remotely controlled airplane ormanaged by an artificial intelligence system, whether a person will press buttons or not, or a ground team will pull on wireless strings, the important question remains unanswered: will we feel easier in flight if we do not see two smart pilots at the helm telling us calmly shaking weather news?

“It seems like people feel more comfortable,when the pilot directly controls the aircraft, ”says aeronautics expert Stephen Rice. “People believe that being in a vehicle is easier for them to drive than from afar. Most people controlled cars or airplanes from the remote control, and they found this difficult. ”

However, today no one thinks twice,before popping into the elevator - but some twenty years ago, for its “safe” work, a “lifter” was needed. The same thing is happening now with unmanned trains and self-driving cars. This shows that “society is currently undergoing a psychic shift on autonomous transport,” says Robinson. “If you had grown up in a future society in which cars drive on their own, and UAVs reliably deliver cargo, would there really be something unexpected about flying passenger airliners?”

Today, however, Rice believes that people canit’s more difficult to accept the idea of ​​unmanned aircraft, because when a train or a car loses control while being controlled by an autopilot, it does not necessarily break. “When the plane stops, it falls from the sky,” he says. And, of course, many people nervously endure flights, but few are nervous about cars or trains.

In this case, computers do not suffer from mentalstress, which leads to incidents like what happened to the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who in 2015 sent a Germanwings passenger plane directly uphill in the French Alps.

“This does not denigrate human pilots. No autopilot today could land a plane on the Hudson River [In 2009, after the failure of both engines, the plane landed on the Hudson River. More than half of 155 passengers were injured, but all survived]. But the car does not get tired, is not subject to emotions, is not afraid and does not make bad decisions. She just does what she is programmed for. Therefore, ultimately, I think they will be safer. "

Presence of a pilot with remote control orAn autopilot that can take control can potentially prevent suicide, as is the case with Germanwings, he adds. It took eight to ten minutes for the plane to descend from 38,000 feet and crash; “If the protocols were in place, the flight control center would have had enough time to authorize a human pilot lockout and take over the remote control or signal the autopilot,” says Rice.

But not everyone agrees. Michael Clamann, a fellow at the Laboratory for People and Autonomy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, believes the security level will be about the same. “Although there really were rare cases where pilots deliberately crashed airplanes (or made serious mistakes), there are also examples of pilots who prevent disasters by being smart in solving a problem. For example, using throttles to control flight. "Some complex problems can be difficult to diagnose from the ground without direct access to all aircraft systems."

And control of the aircraft from the ground will also benot easy. “Sitting in the cockpit, receiving all the information from the window, from displays and sensors,“ feeling ”the plane is not at all like flying through instruments. It will be very difficult to provide a sense of "presence" and give 100% information to the ground pilot. "

Robinson believes the first steps to abandonpilots on commercial airliners should be taken gradually. For example, the Across European research project is dedicated to exploring the feasibility of reducing the operation of a ship to a single pilot.

Twenty years ago it was standard to have threepilot in the cockpit; there are two today, says Scott Winter, an assistant professor of aeronautics at the Florida Institute of Technology. “I think that over time, everyone involved will begin to trust more technology.” Like Rice, he recommends carrying out tests on cargo planes, making sure they are absolutely hopeful, and gaining public confidence.

NASA is also considering this option. Its SPO (Single-Pilot Operations) concept is distinguished by one seat in the cockpit for the commander and one seat on the ground for the operator, who will be both the dispatcher and the senior assistant to the ship's commander. The operator will be the dispatcher when the flight is normal, and not only one, but 12 aircraft will be controlled immediately - that is, it will essentially be a “super-dispatcher”. If problems or difficulties arise on one of the aircraft, he or she will become the senior assistant commander of this flight.

And even if everything works out, there will always beOne problem remains: the risk of a possible hacking of an unmanned vessel. Terrestrial systems should have an extremely high degree of protection and possibly military-grade cybersecurity, Robinson thinks. Klamann adds that there must be not only preventive, but also restorative measures - so that you can not only prevent hacking, but also return control. Finally, passenger UAVs can have high-level artificial intelligence that will not accept instructions until it is verified with the airline.