DARPA’s ALIAS Will Make Manned Aircraft Into Drones

After decades of research and development, the U.S. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency announced Mar. 10 that their Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) is finally ready for Phase 1 of its development.

To begin the process, DARPA awarded contracts to three aerospace firms including Aurora Flight Sciences, Lockheed Martin, and Sikorsky Aircraft to help prototype the drop-in and removable system that could give existing aircraft advanced automation and even drone-like capabilities.

DARPA concept art of the ALIAS in action. DARPA photo

DARPA concept art of the ALIAS in action. DARPA photo

DARPA said in their press release that the ALIAS program (not to be confused with ALASA) will be based upon years of aircraft automation and drone technology to help pilots “shift and refocus pilot workloads, augment mission performance and improve aircraft safety.”

In earlier statements, DARPA described the system as intending to provide an incredible amount of autonomy to a manned aircraft.

As an automation system, ALIAS would execute a planned mission from takeoff to landing, even in the face of contingency events such as aircraft system failures.

“Our goal is to design and develop a full-time automated assistant that could be rapidly adapted to help operate diverse aircraft through an easy-to-use operator interface,” Daniel Patt, ALIAS’ program manager, said. “These capabilities could help transform the role of pilot from a systems operator to a mission supervisor directing intermeshed, trusted, reliable systems at a high level.”

The ALIAS kit is designed be “minimally invasive,” and it will include high-tech touch displays and even voice interfaces.

“We’re excited to have a lot of Phase 1 hardware ready to test,” Patt said, “which we hope will steepen our learning curve and mature the capability faster.”

DARPA and the three aerospace firms will be working alongside the National Air and Space Administration, the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy to develop the ALIAS program.

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