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Plane without a pilot. When artificial intelligence will replace the human at the helm
Material posted: Publication date: 14-02-2020
The investigative Committee of Russia (TFR) has come to a final conclusion on the case of wreck of plane Sukhoi Superjet to Sheremetyevo in may 2019. According to the Department, the only guilty in the crash — the aircraft commander Denis Evdokimov. According to the Deputy Chairman of the TFR Igor Krasnov, the pilot had special training and considerable experience in managing aircraft of various types, but his actions led to the plane crash and the death of 41 people.

Is it right to blame a single pilot without involving the responsibility of the flight leader, instructor or people responsible for the diagnostics of the ship before taking off? And reduce the number of crashes, if you eliminate of the human factor? "The secret" learned from the Director of "Interregional aviation cluster" Denis Baryshnikov, development of unmanned aircraft and when flight comes artificial intelligence.

As soon as the aircraft will not need pilots?

Unmanned aviation is developing rapidly, in particular, drone technology is already actively used for solving problems video and monitor objects in such industries as agriculture, energy, construction.

If to speak about concrete predictions: the first is to wait for "obespylivanija" in the segment "last mile" (the delivery stage from distribution center logistics operator to the end user or destination). Initially, there will be transportation of goods, large-scale changes can be expected in the next five years, followed by passenger transport.

The next stage of development of unmanned technologies — flights on medium-haul distances (from 2500 to 6000 km). Large unmanned vehicles, the analogues of aircraft such as Airbus 320, Boeing 737, will fly in about 10 years. And then five more years will be needed to run the drones that will be able to make long transcontinental flights, and again, first for cargo and then for passengers.

Airbus 320
Boeing 737

In the optimistic scenario after 15 years, unmanned aircraft will become a mass phenomenon, and this time just enough so that the human mind has adapted to innovations, people began to perceive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a reliable and safe way to travel.

But it is worth considering that the rate of adoption of unmanned technology is affected by several factors, the most important of which is the development of the regulatory framework.

Why not get faster?

The main factor limiting the development of unmanned aircraft at the moment is the lack of normative documents, which integrate UAVs in General airspace. These documents are likely to represent a list of rules and zones, allowed and forbidden to fly.

Five years, which were discussed above, this is the period during which, according to experts, will be needed to regulatory documents caught up with the development of technology. The development of a legal base in a hurry from all sides. For example, to allow greater use of UAVs for humanitarian missions (delivery of drugs in remote regions, the transportation of victims, and so forth), the organization of UNICEF in 2019 presented an example of such a document.

The second important limiting factor is the need for infrastructure that will protect the objects, including objects of national importance, from the consequences of the development of unmanned aircraft, for example, unauthorized flight. After events in Saudi Arabia, where drones drones attacked an oil refinery, a number of supporters pessimistic scenarios increased. Began to feel that instead of developing a set of rules that States will choose the path of indiscriminate prohibition on the use of unmanned technology, but this has not happened. But began to develop a protective technology, which means that the time the drones did come, and will come in the near future.

There is another factor which can theoretically slow the development of unmanned technology, is the technical equipment on the ground. But it is hardly a "brake" for the industry, as particular problems for the creation of ground infrastructure for the development of unmanned aircraft there.

The security that is the main problem for land transport, in the industry of unmanned aircraft — in fact solved the problem.

Unmanned ground transportation need of advanced technology, particularly powerful artificial intelligence, which will allow you to move in a dynamically changing environment, where obstacles constantly arise. In addition, the land is limited to the scenarios to respond to a dangerous situation.

In the airspace of these problems are almost there, because there are no obstacles, and if they occur, the UAV there are many trains (corridors of airspace), which give the opportunity to adjust the trajectory.

Returning to the delivery and transportation to the "last mile": these are factors that make UAVs the best solution for getting around the city and at distances up to 200 kilometers. In addition, aerial drones will allow to unload transport arteries of megacities.


International and Russian projects in unmanned aviation

At the moment the main achievements of unmanned aircraft belong to military structures, the UAV here presented innovative devices for monitoring and exploration, and heavy unmanned strike systems. The lead in this direction, countries such as the US, China and Israel. The reason for the significant separation of the military industry lies in the fact that there are no barriers that inhibit commercial projects are not welcome in the development and harmonization of the regulation of airspace.

For civilian markets, at the moment the most vibrant projects — these are projects that can be attributed to the segment "last mile".

First and foremost it is shipping. Technology and startups in this area are interested in not only the global operators, such as TNT, FedEx, UPS, DHL, but also it giants Amazon and Alibaba Group. Today there is a real race for innovation, as online retailers have started to seriously push logistics company in the segment delivery to the door of the end user. Now shipping the "last mile" is done by ground methods, mainly via couriers, but in the future the situation will change and the couriers will replace the UAV. At this stage, the loads rarely exceed 5 kg, so small aircraft are best suited for such tasks.

The undisputed leader in this field, Chinese manufacturers are: as a example is drone EAPD — DHL. In 2019, the drone has already made its first flight at a distance of 8 km, making DHL the first international courier company providing such a service in China. To overcome this distance, Drona took only eight minutes, while the car to overcome the same length it would take about 40 minutes. According to experts, the application of this technology will reduce the cost of shipping up to 80%.

Not far behind Chinese manufacturers in the segment of medium-haul freight transport. In 2019, the representatives of Star UAV System announced the beginning of serial production of cargo aircraft АТ200. The payload capacity of the UAV is 1.5 tons and has a range of 2100 km in 2018, its first demonstration flight was made Feihong 98 (FH-98), developed by engineers at China Aerospace Science and Technology Group Co. The maximum payload capacity of this UAV — 1.5 tons, range is 1,200 km.

In addition to the Chinese manufacturers in this segment it is possible to allocate project of the American Natilus, which develops UAVs for transportation of General cargo weighing up to 3.5 tons at distances up to 1500 km. According to forecasts of the founders, the first flight of this aircraft is to be held in the second quarter of 2021.

At the same time actively developing the market for unmanned passenger aircraft. First of all, we will also see the application of this technology to transport people at the stage of "last mile", that is, flights in places with a loaded transport infrastructure and, on the contrary, in hard to reach places that are difficult to reach in other ways.

In this segment the leader can also be considered Chinese companies, including Ehang. Their unmanned aerial vehicle for transporting passengers EHang 216, developed together with Austrian partners, in 2019 has passed all the necessary tests and, according to manufacturers, is ready for serial production. This model is aimed at use in the segment of commercial passenger transport, in particular, as air taxis.

In this direction, there are achievements and European countries. For example, in 2019, the German company Volocopter presented the characteristics of urban commuter jet VoloCity: this unit will be able to fly at speeds up to 110 kilometers per hour at distances up to 35 kilometers. Originally VoloCity air taxis will be managed by the pilot, but it's an intermediate step. The company plans to make air taxis a full drone.


Own projects in the segment of passenger transport on the "last mile" is, and the leaders of the aviation industry: NeXt Boeing and Airbus Vahana.

Furthest from the implementation of the projects in the segment of unmanned long-haul aircraft (6,000 to 12,000 km) and they exist only on paper, and still have years to go before we see the first demonstration model. As for the Russian projects, we seriously lag behind the leaders in the segment of "last mile", but we have a chance to participate in the highly competitive market for medium-haul and long-haul transport.

The reasons for optimism are: first, we have our own advanced development (projects of group of companies "Aeromaks", projects ArCraft, was developed by aircraft designer Artem Arutyunov and others), which indicate that we have not lost the competence of the design and production of aircraft. Second, while the projects of foreign producers will enter the market, the technological gap can be easily reduced.

Thirdly, the Russian aviation industry representatives actively participate in communications with foreign partners and initiate a dialogue with the authorities to accelerate the development of unmanned technologies in Russia. For example, in may 2020 in Ulyanovsk will be held the Eurasian summit business aviation, the largest international event, one of the agendas of which is the consolidation of market participants on the important issues of developing unmanned technologies.

As the introduction of unmanned technology will affect consumers?

In the first phase of changes will occur in the segment of "last mile" where it will grow the percentage of deliveries using drones. This means that delivery times will be reduced, and the points of reception of parcels will be closer to the recipient. Right to the door is a perfect script, at the intermediate stage you will use a special area, including the post office.

All of this will affect not only consumers, but retailers as a fast and convenient delivery reduces the attractiveness of stores offline. They will have to invent new means of attracting customers, although not the fact that it will save from losses: according to the latest data, due to the popularity of Amazon in America closed nearly 6 thousand retail outlets. Experts predict that in the background of the development of e-Commerce by 2026, the market will take more than 75 thousand shops.

However, a sharp decline in the cost of delivery can not wait, and in the longer term, one cannot expect a sharp decline in the cost of tickets. The introduction of technologies will occur according to the scheme, which is observed in the case of other innovations: first, it will be premium services and products will cost more due to the higher quality and service.

Then prices will gradually decline. And, only when the investment spent by companies that will pay off, you can expect that shipping and air freight will become cheaper for the population and accessible to a wider audience.

How drone technology will affect the roster?

If to speak about the impact of drone technology on the staffing situation as a whole, it is important to consider that technology will be implemented in an evolutionary, not revolutionary. Reduction pilot aviation will occur gradually, allowing part of the flight personnel to safely retire, and the rest — to retrain.

For maintenance of unmanned aircraft will need a lot of technical personnel, in particular, is now gaining popularity such a profession as Manager of robotic unmanned systems. Plus some time the market will need foreign pilots are the professionals who control the drones from the ground. But the big demand for this profession will not be as pilotless aircraft developed in the direction of minimize human intervention in the actions of the UAV.

Will unmanned aircraft to solve the problem of shortage of aircrew?

The problem with the shortage of flight crews at the moment really exists, but we cannot say that it will solve pilotless aircraft, as the horizon mass adoption of the technology still are too far away. To deal with the shortage of pilots need effective action that will give a visible effect in the short term, i.e. over the next one to two years. Possible options include: increase the salaries of pilots to the international level, attracting foreign pilots to the Russian market, as well as reducing the time of training of flight personnel.

Abroad programs of training of the pilots to control the aircraft-level Boeing 737 from scratch take three years, and in Russia, the training is stretched to five years. And the quality of training is, unfortunately, no effect

What do you think the pilots themselves?

Vladimir Tyurin
The Chairman of the Board of the interregional public organisation of pilots and citizens — owners of the aircraft AOPA-Russia
"I think that it is inevitable that it will be fully automated aircraft. The question is not "if" but "when". It's hard to predict, it will take 15 years or more. The question here is not only technology — there are already planes that can fully complete the whole flight from takeoff to landing, in fully automatic mode. Including the planning stage of the flight. But really, there are psychological issues — as you correctly noted, not everyone is willing to sit in a plane. There are legal issues of responsibility for decisions. And the responsibility is and the questions of liquidated damages and so on.

In General, aviation is a very conservative industry, and innovation gets in there slower than in ground transportation. So I would guess that on the horizon of 15-20 years, we will see a cargo transportation on unmanned, or, as it is now called remotely piloted aircraft. And passenger transport with hundreds of passengers aboard are likely to run on a manned aircraft, perhaps with one and not the two pilots on Board."

Yury Sytnik
Honored pilot of the Russian Federation
"Spaceships long fly with artificial intelligence from the first flight of Yuri Gagarin. They expect and trajectory, and ballistics, and the decrease, inhibition, and scientists about even know where the ship will land and the parachute. Now modern technology so that drones do better pilots. Routes are more accurate, come in for a landing, sit, that is no problem, except for one — the psychological factor of the passenger. Whether you want to fly with AI, if there will be a pilot who can at any time disable the automation and to take it over? This question is the most important.

People have to control automation. And how many we know cases, when automation has a wrong perception of the signal. A person has some kind of program and if an error occurs — then how to be? In General, drones are a good thing, they do the work, do not get tired, they don't need to sleep at night, crossing time zones has no effect on them — not like on the human body. Therefore, I believe that automation must be complete, devices should be managed in automatic mode, but to control the pilot must be in the cockpit.

Anywhere the profession of a pilot is not going anywhere — sitting two people, and will sit. Two, because it has a human factor involved — one may be tired, sick, losing my mind. All will be in automatic mode, but the people will control the <...>. The more automation will be on the plane — so they will be safer. But the big button should be on the wheel, the pilot was knocked out of automatic mode and landed. Today there are a lot of automatic missile systems, precision-guided weapons. But hackers interfere in their work, change routes, logic, action, and it all just becomes scrap metal. Why then the airplane will not interfere any such an idiot and not change the programme?

Modern aircraft already mean full automation, the complete denial of human participation in the flight program. <...> Absolutely electronic the Boeing 737 MAX in two accidents lost 350 people. There everything had to be in automatic mode. But the wrong signals because of icing or jamming of the mechanism has led to the development of stabilizer on the dive, and the crews failed — died and people, and airplanes. Boeing stopped flying these ships. Although there were automatics, full automatics. Pilots do there was virtually nothing, but two disasters in six months.

For 15-20 years scientists will learn how to do auto mode, and the pilots sit to control. I personally will not fly on the plane, if there will be a man."

Ivan Andreev (name changed)
The pilot of the Russian airlines
"A similar theme in our professional circles, of course, discussed more than once, but nobody takes this fact seriously yet. I will not argue, will make the assumption that someday, AI may be able to eradicate a profession, as a pilot.

So, in aviation there is the problem that the pilot is gradually transformed into "operator", as the automation performs most of the functions to reduce the load. In modern aircraft such as Boeing and Airbus are already present systems such as Autoland, which under certain conditions allow to plant on their own without the involvement of pilots. But, despite this fact, I believe that to exclude a person completely from the system control of the aircraft impossible. The technique is imperfect in our time, and all may refuse.

My opinion is that the pilot on Board must attend at least one, and carry at least a Supervisory role. As there are many factors that cannot be taken into account to predict, especially such factors as the weather. Therefore, the most important phases of flight such as takeoff and landing are performed manually. Personally I wouldn't trust the AI to manage in such critical phases.

I would like to note the presence of the psychological factor in this matter — the passengers will be much safer to reschedule the flight, knowing that the cabin sits a man who's flying the plane than flying on a plane, in which no one in the cockpit. Rather, the profession will not disappear, but rumor has it that just renamed in the profession "operator of the AIRCRAFT (the aircraft)".

Pavel Semchenko
Civil aviation pilot
"Given the past experience of mankind in the field of civil aviation, everything goes to the fact that the role of the person in control of the aircraft is reduced. Earlier in the control loop of the person by the wheel moving, now many things are already automated. If briefly to describe the work of the pilot in a modern aircraft, it actually carries off, at a certain height presses the button of the autopilot, and then he is not directly acting on the controls, using only all sorts of buttons, program the plane that obeys these commands and performs what he is asked. Why can't you do with land? You can also send an aircraft a sequence of commands, and it will be to fulfill them. Here just there is a problem in modern infrastructure. There are technologies that allow you to take control of the drone. And there is no certainty that if a person on a plane is not, then someone malicious does not intercept the control channel and will not produce any bad actions. You will not need to steal an aircraft being on it. So there are a lot of ethical issues, particularly related to security. And they have not yet solved. I think this question 20-30 years. Already have the technology in case the pilot became ill. Then the passenger can push a button and the plane will return and perform the fit.

If the system is brought to mind, it can be trusted. The problem here lies in the fact that the error itself is the result of human activities. It's not bad and not good — error simply is. And they are in programs in the design of technical components. The challenge to the engineers brought the system to perfection, was able to identify mistakes and resolve in a timely manner. To do this, including there is a certification.

Give an example of bad authority — the Boeing 737 MAX and the two horrible disaster with them in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The investigation revealed that there were mistakes in the control algorithm with the new system, which is not checked properly. Anyway, this has led to the loss of life that whatever is said about the fact that the pilots could correct this situation. They just didn't know it can occur, because retraining on the new aircraft also conducted without proper attention to the new system.

I would have sat in a drone, if I were sure that the manufacturer and the certification body has done its job well. I don't trust the certification system of the Federal air transport Agency. Because there is not a single professional, working, for example, a former geography teacher in the position of Deputy head of flight operations, the chief, in his own words, flown only a thousand hours. They are people who almost did not fly.

Aware internal the disposal of the airline "Russia" of the crew not to land the plane manually. That is, if the airfield infrastructure allows modern aircraft can land itself. It is believed to be safer airline here trust automation. And it may be well, on the one hand, but on the other, if the pilots don't train, you may experience a situation similar to the accident in Sheremetyevo in may 2019. Then, as my colleagues in the "Aeroflot", the pilot with a failed automation was unable to land the plane. That is, while the prior art does not allow her to fully trust.

In addition, there is the problem of congestion of the airspace. In America and Europe, planes in the sky very much. And their number is steadily growing. In 20-30 years planes will be more. While the human mind is a head taller than the automatics. It is now used in order to warn, to draw the attention of the dispatcher or pilot to the problem. And it is not yet possible to program to making the right decisions in unusual situations".

Anastasia Ahmedova

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