Autonomous flight systems and aircraft are already in testing by the U.S. Air Force and other defense agencies, and now RE2 Robotics has been picked by the USAF to build a retrofit robot pilot that can easily take the controls of traditional, human-piloted aircraft and convert them to autonomous airplanes.
RE2 will get funding from the Air Force to make this happen, and the program will involve the company demonstrating via testing that its drop-in system will work mechanically with aircraft, and that its manipulation of controls, vision-based instrumentation reading and decision-making capabilities are all fit to pilot aircraft autonomously, without any modifications at all required on the aircraft side.
This is the key to the whole endeavor: RE2’s robot pilots are a purely plug-and-play aftermarket solution, essentially putting a robot in the pilot’s role, but using all traditional human-focused control interfaces and information reporting systems. Usually, autonomous flight tech requires direct integration, and even custom aircraft or control systems, which is costly and also generally irreversible.
Drop-in robot pilots make for flexible retrofits, which can also leave aircraft ready for human control reversion where required. It’s a way of ensuring that in-field deployment of autonomous aircraft capabilities is easier, too – shipping a robot and putting it in a pilot seat is a lot easier than recalling and modifying vehicles, or even performing on-site conversions.
RE2 hopes to eventually create drop-in pilots for not only aircraft, but also ground vehicles and underwater craft, too. Since all of these are currently designed for operation by a human, it’s feasible to build one type of robot that can address all situations, too, which would be even more beneficial in terms of efficiency and cost-reduction.