The aviation industry has long grappled with a severe shortage of pilots, a situation that has led to flight disruptions and challenges for airlines worldwide, exemplified most recently by American Airlines. However, a groundbreaking development may offer a promising solution. Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) have introduced “PiBot,” a life-sized humanoid robot capable of piloting aircraft and comprehending complex flight controls.

In an era marked by the increasing influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), South Korean scientists have unveiled a humanoid robot with the remarkable ability to take the reins of an aircraft. PiBot, standing at 160 cm tall and weighing 65 kg, possesses the capability to operate flight controls, assimilate aircraft manuals, and respond effectively to emergency situations. Equipped with multiple cameras, it is proficient at monitoring an aircraft’s systems and operational status.

The development of PiBot, a joint venture by KAIST researchers and AI chatbots like ChatGPT, has paved the way for the robot to acquire an extensive knowledge of pilot manuals for various aircraft. Furthermore, PiBot can adapt to different airframes by simply selecting the aircraft type. Notably, it can memorize worldwide Jeppesen aeronautical navigation charts, a task that would be daunting for a human counterpart.

PiBot is also equipped to communicate with air traffic control (ATC) and fellow humans on the flight deck, allowing it to operate effectively in the roles of both Captain and First Officer. This communication capability is facilitated through voice synthesis technology. When connected to the aircraft’s systems, PiBot can establish direct communication with the airframe.

According to reports from Airways Magazine, PiBot has already demonstrated its ability to safely control an aircraft. While the prospect of robot pilots gaining approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may seem distant, it could become a point of interest amid the ongoing pilot shortage crisis.

US airlines have quietly been advocating for the option to operate with a single pilot in the cockpit instead of the conventional two. However, as incidents of pilot fatalities, including mid-air occurrences, continue to rise, there is growing curiosity about whether the FAA would entertain the possibility of combining human and robot pilots in the cockpit. While this remains speculative, the emergence of PiBot underscores the potential for innovative solutions to address the pressing challenges facing the aviation industry.

By Impact Lab