Unleashing AI in Aviation Will Accelerate Move to Zero-Pilot Cargo and Passenger Aircraft

(Image courtesy Kevin Ku/Pexels.)

Software has transformed every operational asset of everything in life; artificial intelligence  (AI ) will have as big an impact on life, predicts Mark Roboff, vice president, aerospace and automotive at SparkCognition during the 2018 SAE Aerospace Standards Summit at LMI in McLean, Va.

“Software is eating the world,” Marc Andreessen famously wrote in his essay in The Wall Street Journal  in 2011. “AI is eating software,” adds Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, which is focused on higher-order AI possibilities for the industries and organizations that create a healthy, functioning, and safe society, in Austin.

Roboff describes AI version 3.0, a resurgence in AI interest and efforts following its invention in the 1950s and reappearance in the 1980s. “We’re back – AI is big news again.”

AI in the cockpit is a worthy pursuit, Roboff insists, adding that it drives a critical safety element. “A computer system that can reacts dynamically provides a critical safety net to allow pilots time to assess and react.”

“People say ‘I don’t trust getting on an airplane without a human pilot,’ yet they’re already getting on mass transit vehicles that aren’t driven by humans,” Roboff says. “Automatic and autonomous vehicles are part of air travel today.

“Commercial flight is already highly automated,” Roboff explains. On some aircraft, pilots “manage” flight vs “fly the plane” and flights are already 99 percent routine, he says, adding that the jump to full autonomy is low.

The challenge, Roboff continues, is how to certify non-deterministic software. “We can start to treat AI systems not as systems but as pilots,” he says. “As we work out how to certify this over the next five to 10 years, that’s enough time to perfect AI in the cockpit.”

“AI is not a technology problem. The technology is here,” Roboff insists. “Certainly, there are hard challenges to solve, but they are solvable.”

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Courtney E. Howard  is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group. Contact her by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..