Moderators: richierich, ua900, PanAm_DC10, hOMSaR

 
Triebwerk
Topic Author
Posts: 91
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:29 am

When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 12:50 am

(A similar topic was posted 6 years ago, but--given the advances in technology since then--I figured it was worth asking one more time.)

Personally, I hope it never happens--if only for sentimental reasons. However, I do feel that--in my lifetime--the piloting job on airliners will be replaced by computers, advanced GPS systems and fly-by-wire technology. The question is, when will it happen? And how will the general public react?

You're welcome to disagree with my theory (especially because I want the piloting industry to stick around). All comments are welcome.
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:19 am

Not likely gonna happen in our lifetime..... Not in civil aviation...

[Edited 2008-10-04 18:19:51]
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
EMBQA
Posts: 7858
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2003 3:52 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:20 am

It already has.....With advanced Auto Pilot and CATIII capabilities
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog"
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:21 am

My personal feeling is that levels of automation, redundancy, reliability, navigation performance etc. etc. will continue to advance, probably to the level that the entire flight operation from pushback to parking is hands-off with very little pilot-aircraft interaction in most cases - but I cannot see, in the foreseeable future, modern airline operations being pilot-less.

First reason, from a Computer Science point of view, computers are dumb. They are brilliant at very quickly, very accurately doing what a human has told them to do at some point. We have not found a true hardware replacement for human intuitiveness - we've merely become adequate at simulating or mimicking it to some level. So I'd say (and I hope) aircraft and autoflight systems continue to progress at the rate they are - but I also hope there is always a human or two ready to wake up when the 1 in a million thing happens.

Second, and probably most important reason - it would take a massive shift in public acceptance of this kind of automation for it to work commercially. If the most reliable, foolproof, advanced system for autoflight you could imagine were introduced tomorrow in a pilot-less RPT operation, I imagine the plane would be almost, if not completely empty. People like humans to have the last say.

Possibly different in Europe/US - but here in Australia, I guarantee you there's a very small percentage of the travelling public who are aware that aircraft can currently conduct autoland operations, and have been able to for 20-30+ years (feel free to correct me on this number). They know they can navigate in zero-visibility - but think that an aircraft landing itself is some futuristic concept. I can't imagine them taking to well to pilot-less operations.

In short, I don't see it happening in my lifetime. I like the topic though, it's right up my alley.
 
flyf15
Posts: 6633
Joined: Tue May 18, 1999 11:10 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 1:56 am

Sure, computers can fly planes, but they will not replace pilots for a long long long time. For quite a few reasons...

1) Fixing problems. The CRJ is LOADED with computers, and thanks to having so many, I have to fix an issue with at least one every flight it seems.

2) Interacting. Part of being a pilot is you're the one on the scene interacting with everyone making sure the show is moving smoothly. Dispatchers, ATC, Flight Attendants, Gate Agents, Rampers, etc. Computers can't do that.

3) Cost. Pilot-less airplanes would require buying a new airplane. Thats going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a lot more than it would be to just pay a pilot.

4) Emergencies. Computers are generally pretty good at flying the plane most of the time when everything is going ok. When something goes wrong, a pilot needs to be there to handle it.

5) Decision making. Pilots are able to use their years of experience to make decisions that computers simply cannot make.

6) Computer ability. Sure, the computers do lots of stuff, but they just do what we tell them to do. There is a multi-hundred step long process of button presses, switch flips, etc, to get a modern airliner into the sky. With everything done properly, the computers do their jobs well.



All in all, the computers we have on planes today are similar to cruise control and a GPS in your car. You can configure it to keep you going and it can provide you a lot of information but you're the one who has to get the car from point A to point B and handle all the decisions, problems, interactions, and such along the way.
 
goboeing
Posts: 2572
Joined: Mon Jun 05, 2000 5:31 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 2:22 am

Today the autothrottles were doing a fine job until we passed a superhighway followed by water on short final. The lift and then sink threw them off and the went all the way to IDLE at 400 feet before rapidly advancing well past the usual final approach N1. You can guess how long I waited before clicking them off and doing it better myself.
 
tdscanuck
Posts: 8573
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 7:25 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 4:00 am



Quoting Zappbrannigan (Reply 3):
First reason, from a Computer Science point of view, computers are dumb. They are brilliant at very quickly, very accurately doing what a human has told them to do at some point. We have not found a true hardware replacement for human intuitiveness - we've merely become adequate at simulating or mimicking it to some level. So I'd say (and I hope) aircraft and autoflight systems continue to progress at the rate they are - but I also hope there is always a human or two ready to wake up when the 1 in a million thing happens.

This is an excellent sum up of the way I feel about it as well, but it doesn't say why the human needs to be on the airplane. Given that, with sufficient technology advance, the need for the human to step in should be pretty well, it seems a lot more efficient to have a very robust communication system and humans on the ground monitoring the fleet, rather than having a human on each airplane who will likely spend 99% of the time doing nothing.

Quoting Zappbrannigan (Reply 3):
Second, and probably most important reason - it would take a massive shift in public acceptance of this kind of automation for it to work commercially.

Definitely true...I think this is the real obstacle, not technology or safety.

Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):

1) Fixing problems. The CRJ is LOADED with computers, and thanks to having so many, I have to fix an issue with at least one every flight it seems.

Fair enough, but how many of those are the actual flight computers (FMS)?

Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):
2) Interacting. Part of being a pilot is you're the one on the scene interacting with everyone making sure the show is moving smoothly. Dispatchers, ATC, Flight Attendants, Gate Agents, Rampers, etc. Computers can't do that.

Likely true, but why does that coordinating human have to physically be on the aircraft?

Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):
3) Cost. Pilot-less airplanes would require buying a new airplane. Thats going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a lot more than it would be to just pay a pilot.

Yes, but if you're buying a new aircraft anyway (which the industry does to the tune of over 1000 per year) a new aircraft that doesn't need a flight crew is an attractive business proposition.

Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):

4) Emergencies. Computers are generally pretty good at flying the plane most of the time when everything is going ok. When something goes wrong, a pilot needs to be there to handle it.

We've already crossed this threshold...on a FBW airliner the computer is always the one flying the plane. It just takes commands from the pilot...the computer doesn't (and can't) know or care whether that command comes from a pilot on the flight deck or a pilot on the ground.

Tom.
 
User avatar
HAWK21M
Posts: 30114
Joined: Fri Jan 05, 2001 10:05 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 4:25 am



Quoting Triebwerk (Thread starter):
question is, when will it happen? And how will the general public react?

Technology is advancing everyday.All Manufacturers are constantly working on a more better & efficient Aircraft.However I don't think in Civil Aviation,one would be able to replace a pilot totally.No Pax would want to fly on that craft.
Rather Technology will reduce the level of skill needed by a pilot to function in flight,as it is every few years.But the Pilot would def be as a monitoring function in the Flight deck always.

regds
MEL
I may not win often, but I damn well never lose!!! ;)
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 4:56 am

As mentioned, pilotless airliners are possible today. Apart from the public perception shift, there is another important issue. Are they really cheaper than piloted airliners?

Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 6):
We've already crossed this threshold...on a FBW airliner the computer is always the one flying the plane. It just takes commands from the pilot...the computer doesn't (and can't) know or care whether that command comes from a pilot on the flight deck or a pilot on the ground.

Or another computer.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
Soku39
Posts: 1731
Joined: Fri Nov 03, 2000 7:16 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 5:45 am

Well the way I see it is this, trains and subways still have engineers (barring those small ones in the yard, and airport ones like at DFW) , and those have no free reign to leave their rails. A plane operates in 3 dimensions 10-20 times faster than a train. Will it occure in our lifetimes? I just don't see that happening.
The Ohio Player
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 3:49 pm



Quoting EMBQA (Reply 2):
It already has.....With advanced Auto Pilot and CATIII capabilities

advanced Autopilot... guys.. Autopilots are stupid... the FD is the smart part of the operation of "auto" flight. The autopilot literally follows the guidance the PILOT inputs into the computers for the Flight Director.... Same as when hand flying... we still have the flight director up and put the inputs to it for guidance (most the time). Further... while yes, the aircraft can be adapted to have flight systems similar to those of "Global Hawk" and "Predator" UAV's... even those UAV's have some serious pitfalls. It is the reason you see them doing dangerous missions where a life is to precious to lose, and in a situation where it simply isn't that critical to lose the machine.

CAT III capabilities... it is more than just the plane that has to be capable.. the runway has to be capable, AND the crew has to be trained on them.... same goes for even a CAT II. It is a special type of approach that while "hands-off" in look, is VERY hands on in a different equally as demanding way.

Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 6):
Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):

1) Fixing problems. The CRJ is LOADED with computers, and thanks to having so many, I have to fix an issue with at least one every flight it seems.

Fair enough, but how many of those are the actual flight computers (FMS)?

Almost every single computer is directly needed and related to the flight. Why else would it be installed in the aircraft?!?!?!?!


I would like to know how the computer will diagnose the need to return to the airport should their be an abnormality. I would like to know what parameters a computer would use to assess a situation after it takes a bird directly into an engine on departure. I would like to know how the computer would handle a Sioux City situation. I would like to know how a computer would handle a fight breaking out in the cabin. I would like to know how a computer would know to how to navigate through really turbulent air.

You think these are all dumb things and minor things.. but in just a few years flying a very state of the art jet... I've had a bird go straight into an engine climbing out of Memphis (enough to have to have the engine completely replaced when we diverted even though it was running all the way till we shut it down after landing)... I've seen the need for a plane to divert when someone was wanting to open a door in flight... I've seen the autopilot (most think is so great on here) disconnect when descending into Oklahoma City one morning because we got rocked with some violent turbulence descending through 14,000'... (we went from a jolt of +1500 fpm to -4000 fpm on the instantaneous VSI)... computers are only as smart as the program they are running.. and a computer CANNOT react timely enough or efficiently enough to deal with all the situations that come up in flight. Sure they could do the average normal flight.. but you would be surprised how actually few flights go without SOME sort of minor little thing we have to address and work out.
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 7:38 pm



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how the computer will diagnose the need to return to the airport should their be an abnormality. I would like to know what parameters a computer would use to assess a situation after it takes a bird directly into an engine on departure.

Well, in the same way that you do. You take inputs from various displays and indicators and make a decision. A computer can make those same decisions, usually much faster, and often more accurately.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how the computer would handle a Sioux City situation

Actually, as a result of that incident, NASA has worked on tests where the flight computers can control the aircraft soley by thrust alone.

It's worth thinking about the times that aircraft have crashed due to the incorrect inputs of pilots and/or pilots not following checklists ... versus those accidents that were avoided because of the 'human' intervention and non-standard procedures. There are probably many more of the former.

But regardless, I don't think many folks are suggesting that no pilot intervention be available from a ground-based station - they just don't need to be on the aircraft for every single flight, just 'in case'.

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:16 pm

Jimbo... it's not that simple as you and others suggest... furthermore for instance the turbulence situation... that is the computer simply being overwhelmed with the inputs its getting and it hands the aircraft back to the pilots... the computer doesn't know how to handle the situation.
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Sun Oct 05, 2008 11:14 pm



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 12):
Jimbo... it's not that simple as you and others suggest... furthermore for instance the turbulence situation... that is the computer simply being overwhelmed with the inputs its getting and it hands the aircraft back to the pilots... the computer doesn't know how to handle the situation.

Oh, it is as simple, trust me  Wink

I'm not sure why you think a computer would be "overwhelmed with the inputs its getting ", and the pilots wouldn't be?? That is exactly what a computer IS very good at doing, and a human being is not ... that is processing huge amounts of data, very quickly.

In fact, technology to detect clear air turbulence is just around the corner. A computer system can steer around a cell just as well as any pilot changing the heading on the autopilot. Sensors can detect turbulence much better and faster than any pilot's butt!

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
and a computer CANNOT react timely enough or efficiently enough to deal with all the situations that come up in flight.

Of course, the truth is quit the contrary. Even a computer from decades ago could process hundreds or thousands of inputs each second. A human is a very slow processing unit when it comes to reaction times, large volumes of data, and multiple decisions.

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 12:35 am



Quoting Bond007 (Reply 13):
I'm not sure why you think a computer would be "overwhelmed with the inputs its getting "

because... a) I'm an airline pilot... b) it happened to me... I didn't give you a hypothetical scenario, it was real one, that really happened, and really had the computer overwhelmed and "give up."
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 12:45 am



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 14):
Quoting Bond007 (Reply 13):
I'm not sure why you think a computer would be "overwhelmed with the inputs its getting "

because... a) I'm an airline pilot... b) it happened to me... I didn't give you a hypothetical scenario, it was real one, that really happened, and really had the computer overwhelmed and "give up."

The computers in aircraft today are overwhelmed but we're talking hardware and software 10-20 years behind the cutting edge. Quite ancient stuff really. It gets so bad that the avionics companies buy up stock of processors that are going out of production so they know they'll have spare parts.

More modern hardware and software could be made more than capable, but there is little incentive to design this kind of thing except for military applications.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
2H4
Posts: 7960
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 11:11 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 12:52 am



Quoting Bond007 (Reply 13):
A computer system can steer around a cell just as well as any pilot changing the heading on the autopilot. Sensors can detect turbulence much better and faster than any pilot's butt!

But how would a computer cope with an all-engine flameout due to fuel contamination? How would a computer deal with the BA 038 accident? Or a stuck main gear? Or with a suicidal first officer or jumpseater?

Regardless of a computer's ability, coded logic simply cannot substitute the experience and judgment of a pilot.

2H4
Intentionally Left Blank
 
User avatar
DocLightning
Posts: 21966
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2005 8:51 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 1:07 am

The day a computer can show the insight, experience, split-second judgement, and intelligence of a pilot, then I suppose they can take over.

Then again, we might as well all commit mass suicide at that point because humans will have become obsolete.
-Doc Lightning-

"The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."
-Carl Sagan
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 3:17 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
But how would a computer cope with an all-engine flameout due to fuel contamination? How would a computer deal with the BA 038 accident? Or a stuck main gear? Or with a suicidal first officer or jumpseater?

Well, all but the last ... the computer would cope in the same way that a human did ... followed procedures and/or made some other decisions based upon available data. As for the suicidal First Officer or jumpseater - they wouldn't exist of course - were you forgetting  Wink

The times when there are exceptions that cannot be handled by onboard systems are tiny, compared to those times now when the 'experience and judgement' actually proves to be the main cause of the accident.

.. and as mentioned, few (if any) are suggesting no human intervention is possible at all - perhaps from a ground station.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 14):
and really had the computer overwhelmed and "give up."

Well, really, I'm not suggesting a ERJ FMS as the system of choice for a pilotless system.

Quoting DocLightning (Reply 17):
The day a computer can show the insight, experience, split-second judgement, and intelligence of a pilot, then I suppose they can take over.

You mean those decisions that brought down the plane. Hey, I'm not suggesting pilots are commonly making fatal mistakes (I am a pilot), but for every exception that folks think cannot be handled by a computer system, I'm sure we can find many more where pilots with all that experience and insight, made the wrong decisions.

Quoting DocLightning (Reply 17):
hen again, we might as well all commit mass suicide at that point because humans will have become obsolete.

Yep, just like the internet made us obsolete, and automated production lines, and EZ-Pass toll lanes, and airline check-in kiosks ... and .....  Wink

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
2H4
Posts: 7960
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 11:11 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 3:29 am



Quoting Bond007 (Reply 18):

Well, all but the last ... the computer would cope in the same way that a human did ... followed procedures and/or made some other decisions based upon available data.

I'm not sure the computer would react in the same way. In a situation where a main gear is stuck, would the computer think to pull some G's, yaw the airplane, and otherwise try to dislodge the gear? In a situation where all engines quit, would the computer dutifully maintain best glide directly toward the runway, even if it was clear it would come up short and hit buildings? I maintain there's no replacement for judgment.

Quoting Bond007 (Reply 18):
As for the suicidal First Officer or jumpseater - they wouldn't exist of course - were you forgetting

You got me...I did indeed forget about that little detail.  biggrin 

Quoting Bond007 (Reply 18):
The times when there are exceptions that cannot be handled by onboard systems are tiny

Unfortunately, I don't think we currently know or can anticipate all of those exceptions....and the ones we can't anticipate would have to be experienced the hard way.

2H4
Intentionally Left Blank
 
Triebwerk
Topic Author
Posts: 91
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:29 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 4:01 am



Quoting Bond007 (Reply 13):

Don't think that the pilot always knows how to handle turbulence, either...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_587
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 4:18 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 19):
I'm not sure the computer would react in the same way

This is the whole point. The computer most definitely would react in the same way - if it was programmed to. Computers have the *theoretical* ability to react perfectly to any conceivable state of flight. Again, from a computer science point of view (this is my initial professional background), this is pretty hard to argue. The question is how thoroughly we can program them to perform all tasks flawlessly in all situations. At the moment? Close to an impossibility. But we're talking "future" here. Please note: I'm in no way saying this is feasible now, or in the near future - I'm merely stating that *theoretically* there is no state of flight, or emergency/abnormal situation, that can be handled adequately by a human and could not by a computer.

The one situation that I cannot think of an answer to is when all computer and electrical systems fail, and all redundancies are exhausted (complete lack of power and power generation capability - for whatever reason you can dream up).
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 4:45 am



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 19):
I'm not sure the computer would react in the same way. In a situation where a main gear is stuck, would the computer think to pull some G's, yaw the airplane, and otherwise try to dislodge the gear? In a situation where all engines quit, would the computer dutifully maintain best glide directly toward the runway, even if it was clear it would come up short and hit buildings? I maintain there's no replacement for judgment.

I guess it's like arguing politics and/or religion  Smile

Why wouldn't the computer 'think' to pull some G's and try and dislodge the gear?? This is simply the pilot following a set of procedures just as any simple computer could.

Again, why would the computer maintain best glide into a building? It's pretty basic stuff. This is another example of where a computer could actually do a better job than a pilot 'guessing' airspeeds etc., and trying the best possible set-up to reach a specific safe point.

For every time there is question concerning how the computer would react in a given situation - ask yourself how the pilot makes his decision - all of that data is available to the computer and it can process that data in a fraction of the time. What does 'judgement' really mean?

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 19):
Unfortunately, I don't think we currently know or can anticipate all of those exceptions....and the ones we can't anticipate would have to be experienced the hard way.

Correct! That's why aircraft crash today with humans onboard that have thousands of hours of experience.

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
Max Q
Posts: 8634
Joined: Wed May 09, 2001 12:40 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 5:31 am

If you think Pilots are there for 'sentimental reasons' maybe you are right, because you will certainly miss them when all of your beloved computers crash !


As has been said, it is surprising how often little things go wrong on a 'routine' flight, things requiring 'human' intervention


Computers are stupid, period, they do not reason, improvise, rationalize or have the benefit of experience.


There is NO SUBSTITUTE for well trained experienced Pilots.


I can guarantee you the only people that believe it's safe to go Pilotless do not fly aircraft for a living.

We know better !
The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.


GGg
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 6:08 am

Just for the record, I'm all for pilots. However I do think most people who have not worked closely with computers tend to anthropomorphise them. Computers are not humans. They are very different. Computers don't "think", they react to stimuli with programmed responses. In some case the programming stimulates a learning response, in which case on the next iteration they may react to the same stimulus differently, but they still don't think. They don't make intuitive leaps. Conversely, they never make mistakes like humans do.



Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
But how would a computer cope with an all-engine flameout due to fuel contamination? How would a computer deal with the BA 038 accident? Or a stuck main gear? Or with a suicidal first officer or jumpseater?

Any of those apart from the last could be programmed. You could without too much difficulty program a modern computer to deal with pretty much any non standard configuration. Say a flap fell off, or the rudder. With more or less flight-sim levels of logic you could program a computer to find the variance between commands and expected responses (since without surface x or engine y the aircraft flies differently), and compensate to match. Of course a computer might not think "what if surface z is now weakened?" and compensate, but some sensors would deal with that nicely.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 19):
I'm not sure the computer would react in the same way. In a situation where a main gear is stuck, would the computer think to pull some G's, yaw the airplane, and otherwise try to dislodge the gear? In a situation where all engines quit, would the computer dutifully maintain best glide directly toward the runway, even if it was clear it would come up short and hit buildings? I maintain there's no replacement for judgment.

Computers could handle all that within the limits of their programming. Computers don't think, but they can follow a logic tree when the gear doesn't work nominally. Pilots do that too, but of course pilots have more initiative and may react better.

Then again, are you so sure that pilots wouldn't make mistakes? Seeing as pilot error is one of the most common causes of accidents, perhaps in many cases computers are the better choice.  Wink Computers never use the wrong procedure because they ignore the checklist. Computers never forget their training.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 23):
Computers are stupid, period, they do not reason, improvise, rationalize or have the benefit of experience.

Computers are not stupid. That description cannot be applied. Computers can act within the limits of their programming. That makes them neither stupid nor smart.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 23):
If you think Pilots are there for 'sentimental reasons' maybe you are right, because you will certainly miss them when all of your beloved computers crash !

The idea that computers crash in catastrophic ways constantly is nurtured by the PCs everyone uses, which are notoriously unstable. When was the last time you heard that a patient died because a heart/lung machine crashed? Those levels of reliability are easily attainable for a price.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
Max Q
Posts: 8634
Joined: Wed May 09, 2001 12:40 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 6:55 am

Big difference between a heart / lung machine and a jet transport Sblue, there are, 'just a few' more potential problems involved in flying an Aircraft.

I am always amazed at the 'willingness' of some on this forum to trust their lives to computers.

Sblue, you say you are 'all for Pilots' then go on to 'rationalize' how we can do without them stating how they can compensate 'nicely' and that they 'never use the wrong procedure'

I have seen numerous computer failures over the years and numerous ocasions where a Pilots common sense is dictates intervention.

They simply cannot be trusted, autoflight guidance systems are there to assist the Pilot but you must know when to disregard them, this is where training, experience and back to basics Airmanship is required, you cannot teach that to a computer.

Sblue, you probably deal with computers professionally on a daily basis and have a lot of positive experience with them on the ground in a predictable routine environment.

Under most circumstances, however this is not the case in the cockpit of a jet transport.

I hesitate to speak for my peers but would venture that not one of them would trust a Pilotless aircraft.

You would not get me on one !
The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.


GGg
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:38 am

I think we will see pilotless airliners. I just don't know when. But for now and the foreseeable future it is much cheaper to train pilots than to create a bulletproof flight management system. Why bother developing and building something hugely expensive that may or may nor work 5-10 years down the line when you have two perfectly good thinking creatures you can use?

Can pilotless airliners be built today? Yes. Will this actually happen? No, there's no incentive to build them.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):

I am always amazed at the 'willingness' of some on this forum to trust their lives to computers.

Well, even if two pilots are in the cockpit if the flight computers really screw up an Airbus can still tear itself apart. So I willingly trust my life to computers.  

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
Sblue, you probably deal with computers professionally on a daily basis and have a lot of positive experience with them on the ground in a predictable routine environment.

Under most circumstances, however this is not the case in the cockpit of a jet transport.

If computer infrastructure were predictable and routine I would have been out of a job a long time ago.   Individual computers running simple programs tend to be very predictable. Take a calculator, for instance. Once you run complex programs and network them you run into problems because the investment in programming and testing was not big enough to make them completely reliable.

However, this is all a programming and testing issue. With enough money, you can make almost faultless computers. Take the flight management computers in an Airbus. "Bulletproof", error controlling and correcting programming that doesn't make any errors over millions of flights. Why shouldn't I trust my life to that? Oh wait, I do, and so do the pilots of those aircraft.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
Sblue, you say you are 'all for Pilots' then go on to 'rationalize' how we can do without them stating how they can compensate 'nicely' and that they 'never use the wrong procedure'

I have seen numerous computer failures over the years and numerous ocasions where a Pilots common sense is dictates intervention.

Max Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about how computers are not "stupid" and that people misunderstand their function. Computers are just tools, like hammers and rolling pins. They should be treated as such. But people tend to give them human characteristics, and this leads to somewhat skewed ideas of what they can and cannot do. Lots of people I talk to have the impression that malfunctioning computers have it in for them, and by treating them like people they don't rationally analyze the problem.


I am not saying that the world is ready for pilotless aircraft. It isn't. I also wanted to point out that pilots are hardly faultless either. Most accidents, especially if you include general aviation, happen in perfectly good aircraft and are mostly the fault of the pilots.

Having said all that, I still prefer pilots for two important reasons that I didn't really touch on before.
- Programming errors. Computers have neither common sense nor survival instinct. If their programming is wrong, they will not change their behavior. The error correcting and controlling behavior of the human brain has no parallel in the computer world.
- If the situation is not encompassed within programmed parameters the computer will not know what to do. This happened in a limited fashion to Armstrong and Aldrin on final approach to the moon. Without pilot intervention the craft would have crashed.

[Edited 2008-10-06 00:41:58]
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 11:30 am



Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
I have seen numerous computer failures over the years and numerous ocasions where a Pilots common sense is dictates intervention.



...and I'm sure we can discuss all of the other numerous occasions where the pilot has made a fatal mistake, even with thoiusands of hours of experience, yet had he had followed procedures, the aircraft would have been safe. For every 'seat of the pants' intervention that saved 200 pax, you must remember the times when it didn't.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
They simply cannot be trusted,

I'm not sure what that means. We 'trust' them every day for our lives. In every Airbus, I trust me life with them. Most unstable military aircraft would crash without them making hundreds of decisions each second .... etc. etc.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
I hesitate to speak for my peers but would venture that not one of them would trust a Pilotless aircraft.

Well, I think I'm one of 'your peers'  Smile

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 26):
The error correcting and controlling behavior of the human brain has no parallel in the computer world.

Well, but more than some tend to understand. The idea that computers just follow a discrete set of instructions, and are useless if anything else happens, is simply a misunderstanding of how the latest software and hardware can work. Sure computers can 'learn', they can have 'fuzzy logic' programmed, and they can certainly have some kind of 'error correction' built in. Even my thermostat at home 'learns' over time when it need to change the temps during the day to match my exact settings  Wink

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
kalvado
Posts: 2971
Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:29 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 1:14 pm

Let's try to think what needs to happen before a purely pilotless plane takes off:
1. ATC system would need to be upgraded to a computer-readable standard. At least sending text instead of voice clearances, maybe something else?
2. Bunch of new sensors at airports, which have to be able to tell if there is a disabled/delayed plane on a runway, if plane in front (with or without pilot at controls) followed clearance exactly and moving on a crowded ORD taxiway is OK.
3. Few (I would think 10+) years of a single-pilot fleet-sized operation as a field-test.
Actually, live and electronic pilot is probably the safest combination - factors disabling one wouldn't affect the other.
 
aogdesk
Posts: 748
Joined: Wed Jun 09, 2004 2:26 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 1:23 pm

The idea of actually removing pilots from the flight deck might be far off, but rest assured, aircraft manufacturers are doing everything they can to make that a reality. I had lunch with a Boeing exec not too long ago and he made it quite clear that everyone is zeroed in on the high cost of pilot labor. Many pilots will be quite offended at this and will insist that they could never be replaced, but has that happened in ANY other industry? They'll continue to "dumb down" the skillsets necessary until one of the two people now occupying that space can be replaced by a "flight specialist" or something of that nature.
In just a few relatively short years, they've managed to reduce the cockpit staffing by 33%. What makes people think that they can't go further?
 
keny156
Posts: 18
Joined: Sat Feb 10, 2007 2:49 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 5:56 pm

Ask an MD11 pilot if there is automation.

We had our one of our MD11 actually start locking out the pilot from doing certain things
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:01 pm



Quoting Aogdesk (Reply 29):
I had lunch with a Boeing exec not too long ago and he made it quite clear that everyone is zeroed in on the high cost of pilot labor

You will still have to pass regulatory hurdles not to mention a huge public perception battle. Technology has been shelved in the past for such issues. The fact that it may or may not be able to be done eventually is just a small part of this issue.

I personally don't feel that it would be prudent to have a system such as what some suggest. Automated "car" systems and completely automated trains (national, not the ones at amusement parks and airports) are fare more feasible than a pilot-less airliner.

I personally will not fly on a plane completely automated and there are many others that I'm sure feel similarly. I would venture to say that a majority of people will not be comfortable with a pilot-less plane for generations from now.
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
aogdesk
Posts: 748
Joined: Wed Jun 09, 2004 2:26 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:37 pm



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 31):
You will still have to pass regulatory hurdles not to mention a huge public perception battle. Technology has been shelved in the past for such issues. The fact that it may or may not be able to be done eventually is just a small part of this issue.

You're 100% correct on the regulatory issue, and I think it goes without saying that we're not even close to the drastic changeover to zero flight crew. But nothing happens overnight, everything is slowly phased in. I personally wouldn't be surprised if certain flight crew duties which can be "taught" to cabin or ground crews are slowly migrated towards those folks. Thats not my wish mind you, but its how I see things morphing in the future.

As far as people adamantly refusing to fly on a plane with no crew.....imagine trying sell someone on the idea of flying .84 mach in a metal tube at FL400 way back in 1905....... Smile You'd have had some resistance then....lol
 
WPIAeroGuy
Posts: 324
Joined: Tue Aug 21, 2007 11:52 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Mon Oct 06, 2008 10:50 pm

It depends on what is more common, an extraordinary event which the computer cannot recognize and handle, or a common occurance that is screwed up by human error. The two complement each other very nicely and even if theres no pilot on board, there will still be a means of human intervention.

I read a book called Complications, its a great read and insight into the medical profession, and it has a chapter specifically dealing with computers and healthcare. In one example, a world renowned heart surgeon competed against a computer at diagnosing heart attacks. I don't recall the exact numbers, but the computer was about 20% more accurate. The reason it got so good, was that it had a database of thousands of EKG's of heart attacks, and it learned every minute detail in detecting one. The same logic could be applied to flight controls. Imagine not having the experience of one pilot, but thousands all over the globe, constantly updating your 'knowledge' of flight. Sure its not feasible right now, but definetly in the future computers will far surpass pilots on their piloting ability.
-WPIAeroGuy
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 12:41 am



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 31):
Automated "car" systems

IMO we are much further ahead of the game with automated flight, than we are with cars. Trains, sure, quite a straightforward task on some routes. With a modern aircraft today, with little (or none) modifications, it could depart, climb, cruise, descend, and land without any (or minimal) human intervention. The same cannot be said for a car on trip from say Orlando to Miami, via highways, standard roads, and traffic. Now I'm not suggesting that we can automate flight today, with 20 year-old technology, but it's way ahead of automating automobiles. A GPS that speaks to us, and in the best case, a cruise control system that keeps us a safe distance behind the car in front, is far from a standard FMS and associated systems.

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
tdscanuck
Posts: 8573
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 7:25 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 1:39 am



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
advanced Autopilot... guys.. Autopilots are stupid... the FD is the smart part of the operation of "auto" flight. The autopilot literally follows the guidance the PILOT inputs into the computers for the Flight Director

No, it doesn't, at least not in anything but the most trivial cases. Yes, you can "dumb down" the autopilot to follow explicit bank angle, heading, and altitude commands from the pilot, but there's really not much point in an autopilot then.

If you're running in full VNAV/LNAV autopilot, the flight crew isn't telling the airplane anything. The FMS sets the route and gives commands to the autopilots, which determines how to move the controls to achieve the path the FMS wants.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 6):
Quoting Flyf15 (Reply 4):

1) Fixing problems. The CRJ is LOADED with computers, and thanks to having so many, I have to fix an issue with at least one every flight it seems.

Fair enough, but how many of those are the actual flight computers (FMS)?

Almost every single computer is directly needed and related to the flight. Why else would it be installed in the aircraft?!?!?!?!

Apparently, you don't understand the difference between a flight computer (aka FMS) and a computer "related to the flight." Obviously, the computers on board are somehow related to the flight or they wouldn't be there. However, almost none of the computers are directly related to controlling the airplane. You can loose the DFDR, maintenance terminal, all navigation and radios, displays, APU controller, IFE, half the EEC's, the EFB's, the entire autopilot, and 2/3 of the FBW computers and the plane still flies perfectly safely. The flight control system is that very small subset of computers that can actually move the control surfaces, and they very very rarely fail as a system (for obvious reasons).

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how the computer will diagnose the need to return to the airport should their be an abnormality.

We've had electronic checklists for more than a decade. This is the logical encoding of the same decision procedures that the pilots use...if you can write a procedure for the pilot, you can write one for the computer.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know what parameters a computer would use to assess a situation after it takes a bird directly into an engine on departure.

Same as the pilot...N1, N2, EPR, EGT, fuel flow, vibration, etc., etc.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how the computer would handle a Sioux City situation.

Probably much better than the average pilot. The Sioux City flight crew was incredibly lucky (that's not just my opinion, it's the captain's opinion). No flight crew since was able to replicate a survivable landing in that situation whereas, as noted earlier in the thread, NASA has started to work on computers than can do it.

Fighters have already basically figured out 3-axis control using thrust alone (implemented entirely by computer), which is basically what the Sioux City crew was doing.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how a computer would handle a fight breaking out in the cabin.

How would the *flight crew* handle a fight breaking out in the cabin? Nobody is suggesting we get rid of cabin crew.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how a computer would know to how to navigate through really turbulent air.

We've got UAV's doing it all the time, plus gust alleviation on the latest and greatest commercial transports, which is essentially the same thing.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 14):
I didn't give you a hypothetical scenario, it was real one, that really happened, and really had the computer overwhelmed and "give up."

It "gave up" because it was programmed to give up. If an autopilot goes outside boundaries set by the programmers, it reverts to the pilots. It shouldn't be necessarily to point out that a pilotless airliner would have different reversion logic.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
But how would a computer cope with an all-engine flameout due to fuel contamination?

Better than a flight crew...the autopilot is considerably better at holding a particular path than a human pilot.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
How would a computer deal with the BA 038 accident?

Same as a pilot...do your best to make the runway.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
Or a stuck main gear?

Same as a pilot...alternate gear extension and, if that fails, set down on one gear and stay up as long as you can. Don't forget that the only way the pilot of a large airliner knows that the gear is stuck is because the computer tells him so.

Also don't forget that, if you can think it up, you can think up a scenario to deal with it and that can be programmed. It's the scenarios that you can't or don't think up that are more of an issue, but that's true for computers and humans.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
Or with a suicidal first officer or jumpseater?

I'm pretty sure this is a non-issue with a computer flight crew.

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 16):
Regardless of a computer's ability, coded logic simply cannot substitute the experience and judgment of a pilot.

True, but that doesn't say why the human has to be on the aircraft.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 25):
I am always amazed at the 'willingness' of some on this forum to trust their lives to computers.

In any FBW airliner you are trusting your life to the computer. It is physically impossible to operate a full FBW airliner without the computer. We've already crossed this hurdle a long time ago.

Quoting Kalvado (Reply 28):
1. ATC system would need to be upgraded to a computer-readable standard. At least sending text instead of voice clearances, maybe something else?

We've already got direct data link between ATC, dispatch, and the aircraft...all you need to do is automate the pushing of the "accept" button.

Quoting Kalvado (Reply 28):
2. Bunch of new sensors at airports, which have to be able to tell if there is a disabled/delayed plane on a runway, if plane in front (with or without pilot at controls) followed clearance exactly and moving on a crowded ORD taxiway is OK.

Isn't this basically what all the new ground surveillance radars built to prevent runway incursions (caused by humans) do?

Tom.
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 2:04 am



Quoting Bond007 (Reply 27):
Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 26):
The error correcting and controlling behavior of the human brain has no parallel in the computer world.

Well, but more than some tend to understand. The idea that computers just follow a discrete set of instructions, and are useless if anything else happens, is simply a misunderstanding of how the latest software and hardware can work. Sure computers can 'learn', they can have 'fuzzy logic' programmed, and they can certainly have some kind of 'error correction' built in. Even my thermostat at home 'learns' over time when it need to change the temps during the day to match my exact settings

Very true.

Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 31):

I personally will not fly on a plane completely automated and there are many others that I'm sure feel similarly. I would venture to say that a majority of people will not be comfortable with a pilot-less plane for generations from now.

This will indeed be a generational issue. But this has happened before. Large parts of generations past have refused to fly at all or refused to get on a train. Heck, there were probably lots of people who refused to come down from the trees in the first place.

What is "reasonable" changes over time.

Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 35):
Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
I would like to know how the computer would handle a Sioux City situation.

Probably much better than the average pilot. The Sioux City flight crew was incredibly lucky (that's not just my opinion, it's the captain's opinion). No flight crew since was able to replicate a survivable landing in that situation whereas, as noted earlier in the thread, NASA has started to work on computers than can do it.

IIRC NASA has already landed airliners with only the engines controlling the flight path.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:13 am

Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 35):
Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 10):
advanced Autopilot... guys.. Autopilots are stupid... the FD is the smart part of the operation of "auto" flight. The autopilot literally follows the guidance the PILOT inputs into the computers for the Flight Director

No, it doesn't, at least not in anything but the most trivial cases. Yes, you can "dumb down" the autopilot to follow explicit bank angle, heading, and altitude commands from the pilot, but there's really not much point in an autopilot then.

If you're running in full VNAV/LNAV autopilot, the flight crew isn't telling the airplane anything. The FMS sets the route and gives commands to the autopilots, which determines how to move the controls to achieve the path the FMS wants.

No... again, the autopilot is the stupid portion of a 2 part system. Most people don't understand the relationship of the 2. The Flight Director (FD) is the brains of the operations... the FMS or the pilot sends the information to the FD to which the autopilot simply does like the pilot would.. puts the plane into the v-bars. The autopilot functions by moving servos/controls to match up to the FD guidance. You cannot engage the autopilot without having the FD also selected.. but the FD can be selected without the autopilot.. make sense??? So yes, I stand by what I said before, the autopilot is stupid, the Flight Director is smart.

Quoting Tdscanuck (Reply 35):
Apparently, you don't understand the difference between a flight computer (aka FMS) and a computer "related to the flight."


I'm not really sure how to take your tone on that post... it comes across pretty demeaning.

Almost every single computer on a modern airliner talks to each other and as such will be required for the operation of the aircraft by a pilot-less aircraft. You were trying to say FlyF15 and I were wrong on this by pointing out EFB's, IFE, APU Control etc... What you're missing that are essential are the AHRS units, ADC's, FADEC's, FPMU's, DAU's, FECU, FPDU, LGEU, BCU, etc...

[Edited 2008-10-06 20:36:26]
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
Max Q
Posts: 8634
Joined: Wed May 09, 2001 12:40 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:39 am

TdsCanuck,

You know not of what you speak !

On the 777 the Pilots have the abilty to completely turn off the fly by wire system and fly the aircraft, the computer is not 'essential'


Fortunately I do not fly the Airbus but I believe even that aircraft has the ability to fly in a degraded 'direct law' mode.


Bond7, I suggest you look up the meaning of 'peer'


Let me just ask the following question, is there one professional Pilot, not A Netter armchair expert that would trust their life to a Pilotless aircraft ?
The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.


GGg
 
ThePinnacleKid
Posts: 540
Joined: Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:47 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:55 am



Quoting Max Q (Reply 38):

Let me just ask the following question, is there one professional Pilot, not A Netter armchair expert that would trust their life to a Pilotless aircraft ?

well.. to start that ball rolling, although I'm sure it was meant rhetorically... I'll guess you're a no, I'm gonna be a no... that leaves us:

No - 2
Yes - 0
"Sonny, did we land? or were we shot down?"
 
Triebwerk
Topic Author
Posts: 91
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:29 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 5:58 am

So far, this discussion has focused on commercial aviation--which is exactly where I wanted it to go. However, since some people mentioned the predator aircraft:

How long will it be until 80 to 90 percent of military missions (for the United States, at least) are flown by computerized or remotely operated planes? (And that's another thing--only a few people so far have brought up the idea of flying a plane from a distant location. Would it be possible to have one pilot operating four staggered flights at once, switching from plane to plane to execute takeoffs, landings and other maneuvers in which the pilot's input would be required?)

Thanks so far for all the great answers--and for keeping this discussion civil, which I didn't think would be possible.
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 6:52 am



Quoting Max Q (Reply 38):
Let me just ask the following question, is there one professional Pilot, not A Netter armchair expert that would trust their life to a Pilotless aircraft ?



Quoting ThePinnacleKid (Reply 39):
well.. to start that ball rolling, although I'm sure it was meant rhetorically... I'll guess you're a no, I'm gonna be a no... that leaves us:

No - 2
Yes - 0

In the current era, I'm a no as well (I've never flown a jet, so you discount that as a pro-pilot vote if you like). However, IMO the amount of no's are pretty irrelevant to the original question and topic. You would trust your life to a pilotless aircraft if it were developed to the point where you didn't give its capability and reliability a second thought - in exactly the same fashion as you now trust the reliability and redundancy in a modern FBW system without giving it a second thought. It's just hard to imagine accepting that level of reliability in a pilotless aircraft. But just because it's hard to imagine, doesn't mean it's not possible.

Again, as a person with a CS/programming background - I can imagine in the future (perhaps quite distant), computerised flight management and control advancing to the level where no professional pilot in the world argues that they can perform in any conceivable flight condition better than the autopilot. Sounds crazy - but in my opinion it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Won't happen any time soon, that's for sure. But I cannot think of a single logical or technical reason (discard the public acceptance thing) why it isn't theoretically possible - all it takes is the right software.

I think some people are trying to prove a theoretical future case as impossible by arguing present-day facts and logic - such as ATC, ground-based equipment or current software standards being insufficient. This is all true, but doesn't go any way to prove it can't all happen perfectly in the future.
 
bond007
Posts: 4428
Joined: Mon Mar 14, 2005 2:07 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 7:16 am



Quoting Max Q (Reply 38):
Bond7, I suggest you look up the meaning of 'peer'


Let me just ask the following question, is there one professional Pilot, not A Netter armchair expert that would trust their life to a Pilotless aircraft ?

Ummmm.... I didn't need to look it up, and yes, when the time comes, I'll have no problem trusting a 'pilotless aircraft'.... us 'professional pilots' do it every time we fly an approach to minimums, and that's using ILS technology that is literally decades old. Every Airbus pilot does it (I'm not one), and without an F16 pilot 'trusting' the onboard computers, nobody would be flying them ... it's the only way they can fly.

BTW, just for info, I probably had my ATP ticket 10-20 years before some of the other 'professional pilots' here, so let's not question qualifications.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 38):
Let me just ask the following question, is there one professional Pilot, not A Netter armchair expert that would trust their life to a Pilotless aircraft ?

The problem is, the pilots are the last people you need to convince.... it's the passengers and Joe Public that have to accept it  Wink

Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
buckfifty
Posts: 1278
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2001 4:05 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 8:20 am

If AI technology does advance to the point where computers can deal with a problem which is previously unknown, and unprogrammed, then maybe it's time we all hit the showers.

When no two emergencies are ever the same, I think that it would take an immense amount of computer power to assess every situation for what it is, and come up with the best solution. It'll come, of course, but the timeframes for such an event vary.

I'm in no doubt that a computer can do a better landing than I can on a more consistant basis. But I'm keen on finding out how one can figure out an inflight emergency and subsequent dirversion. I just hope it isn't anything like how the navigation system works in my car. If it is, I'm sure everyone would be dead before the plane hits the ground.
 
Max Q
Posts: 8634
Joined: Wed May 09, 2001 12:40 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 9:21 am

Well Bond7,

If, indeed you are a professional Pilot, have been flying commercially for 10 or 20 years I would think you would have seen the limitations of computers and other assorted systems / situations
over the years and developed (as every Airline Pilot I know) a healthy skepticism of, not only their reliability but 'taking for granted' human intervention will not be necessary.


When you fly an approach to minimums do you not monitor the aircrafts progress ? you are hardly Pilotless then, unless you close your eyes..

You have a lot of faith in automation, I hope that doesn't bite one day !


There are simply too many permutations and problems that do not lend themselves to a computers response, the flexibility is not there.

The DC10 crew in Sioux city were not 'lucky' they worked together as a team under an exceptional Captain to achieve the best possible result. No computer could do that.

Why would you want to give control to a computer, remember Hal !
The best contribution to safety is a competent Pilot.


GGg
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:09 am

Max, I agree with everything you're saying, but you're talking about *current* computer systems. You have spoken about the limitations of computers - what you actually mean is the limitations of current software. A pilotless aircraft built around the automation capability of today's airliners is impossible to implement safely. But that is irrelevant.

There is nothing theoretically wrong with the statement that a computer, if programmed well enough, could have landed the DC10 in Sioux City with no loss of life. Same with the Gimli Glider or any other abnormal situation or emergency. Just because current systems don't take us anywhere near that level, doesn't mean they can't, or won't, in the future. To deny this is to basically concede that the technology has come just about as far as it can come. And I believe we're only touching the tip of the iceberg.
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:11 am



Quoting BuckFifty (Reply 43):
When no two emergencies are ever the same, I think that it would take an immense amount of computer power to assess every situation for what it is, and come up with the best solution.

Not an immense amount of power - just immensely well written software. Nothing science fiction about it.
 
User avatar
Starlionblue
Posts: 20370
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2004 9:54 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:17 am



Quoting Max Q (Reply 38):
Fortunately I do not fly the Airbus but I believe even that aircraft has the ability to fly in a degraded 'direct law' mode.

It can, but this would only be done in a dire emergency when most of the computers are off line for some reason.

Quoting Zappbrannigan (Reply 41):

In the current era, I'm a no as well (I've never flown a jet, so you discount that as a pro-pilot vote if you like). However, IMO the amount of no's are pretty irrelevant to the original question and topic. You would trust your life to a pilotless aircraft if it were developed to the point where you didn't give its capability and reliability a second thought - in exactly the same fashion as you now trust the reliability and redundancy in a modern FBW system without giving it a second thought. It's just hard to imagine accepting that level of reliability in a pilotless aircraft. But just because it's hard to imagine, doesn't mean it's not possible.

Indeed.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 44):
If, indeed you are a professional Pilot, have been flying commercially for 10 or 20 years I would think you would have seen the limitations of computers and other assorted systems / situations
over the years and developed (as every Airline Pilot I know) a healthy skepticism of, not only their reliability but 'taking for granted' human intervention will not be necessary.

You are still talking about the computers in aircraft today. Those are designed with the assumption of human oversight. Quite different from a system designed to be automated from the ground up.

Also, I don't think anyone is taking for granted that human intervention won't be necessary. Simply that the possibilities exist.

One could also envision a system where a ground based pilot oversees 10 planes while they are flown automatically.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 44):
Why would you want to give control to a computer, remember Hal !

A work of fiction. Also recall how HAL malfunctioned because he was given secret commands that conflicted with his primary objectives. So it was the silly humans who created the malfunction in the first place.

Quoting Max Q (Reply 44):
The DC10 crew in Sioux city were not 'lucky' they worked together as a team under an exceptional Captain to achieve the best possible result. No computer could do that.

The captain himself said he had been lucky. NASA later proved that with a system that controlled flight path through differential thrust the plane could have been landed much more easily. This could have been done by a computer, just like an autoland today.

From a computing standpoint, the problem wasn't that complex. Find the variance between expected results and actual results when a control surface is moved or engine thrust is changed. Create a new flight model given those variances. Land the plane using the new model. There are systems today that do way more complex things. Computers can "learn" this kind of thing way faster than humans.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
zappbrannigan
Posts: 231
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:41 am

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:38 am



Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 47):
From a computing standpoint, the problem wasn't that complex.

Agreed, from a geek perspective it's a very interesting problem. A well written system would very quickly know exactly what thrust changes were needed to provide the required performance, and would very quickly and accurately compute the mathematically best profile down to the runway. There is nothing unbelievable or massively high-tech about this - it simply doesn't exist yet. I'm sure there are far more complex physics problems being controlled flawlessly by software right now in a million places around the world.
 
buckfifty
Posts: 1278
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2001 4:05 pm

RE: When Will Computers Take Over Pilots?

Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:28 pm



Quoting Zappbrannigan (Reply 46):

Not an immense amount of power - just immensely well written software. Nothing science fiction about it.

Software is, by and large, written by humans, which is also bound to have errors. I don't think there has ever been software of immense complexity that is immune to system crashes because of said factor.

So at the end of it, error recovery is the most important issue. Certainly having systems backing each other up is a good way to start, but then they're also prone to said errors. The probability of multiple systems failures along the same lines is rare, but it does happen.

Quoting Zappbrannigan (Reply 48):
There is nothing unbelievable or massively high-tech about this - it simply doesn't exist yet.

If it doesn't exist yet, that means it is massively high-tech enough that no one has been able to figure out the answer. The rate of non-combat UAV losses bear this out.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 30 guests

Popular Searches On Airliners.net

Top Photos of Last:   24 Hours  •  48 Hours  •  7 Days  •  30 Days  •  180 Days  •  365 Days  •  All Time

Military Aircraft Every type from fighters to helicopters from air forces around the globe

Classic Airliners Props and jets from the good old days

Flight Decks Views from inside the cockpit

Aircraft Cabins Passenger cabin shots showing seat arrangements as well as cargo aircraft interior

Cargo Aircraft Pictures of great freighter aircraft

Government Aircraft Aircraft flying government officials

Helicopters Our large helicopter section. Both military and civil versions

Blimps / Airships Everything from the Goodyear blimp to the Zeppelin

Night Photos Beautiful shots taken while the sun is below the horizon

Accidents Accident, incident and crash related photos

Air to Air Photos taken by airborne photographers of airborne aircraft

Special Paint Schemes Aircraft painted in beautiful and original liveries

Airport Overviews Airport overviews from the air or ground

Tails and Winglets Tail and Winglet closeups with beautiful airline logos