The planes of the future might not have pilots


Merlin Labs is carrying test flights with its autonomous pilot technology using this Dynamic Aviation King Air plane. Photo: AFP

American startup Merlin Labs specialises in developing software solutions for autonomous piloting in aviation. It plans to equip a small fleet of jets so that they can fly without the assistance of a real pilot. Could this be the beginning of 100% autonomous commercial aircraft?

After raising significant funding, Merlin Labs has concluded a deal with Dynamic Aviation to test and hopefully one day put into service its unmanned aircraft technology, capable of transporting goods as well as passengers.

The startup's goal is to develop, in the very near future, a safe, fully digital, autonomous pilot system capable of taking control of an existing aircraft. As part of its agreement with Dynamic Aviation, the startup will supply its autonomous flight technology to 55 of the aviation services contractor's Beechcraft King Air aircraft. Merlin Labs is already conducting test flights over the Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

While the technology promises fully autonomous navigation rather than remote control, remote "supervisors" would still be on hand to monitor the aircraft and make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Note that aviation is a pioneer in this field, with autopilot technology in use in the industry for a long time. In fact, pilots often only really intervene during the takeoff and landing phases of a flight. In light of the possibility of human error (which is thankfully rare), Merlin Labs considers that a fully autonomous system would eventually be the safest. Working with an established company should help get its technology certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a necessary step in allowing this type of aircraft to fly officially in US skies. – AFP Relaxnews

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