Autonomous cars are certainly changing the way we get to where we’re going, quite literally. With companies such as Google and even Uber investing in self-driving vehicles, it would appear that the sky’s the limit. Now, even that can be a reality. What if your next flight was on an autonomous aircraft? Well, that’s what Boeing is trying to achieve.
Boeing recently announced that they would be investing in a startup that is trying to make autonomous flight popular and available for the masses. The startup, Near Earth Autonomy, develops technology for unmanned flying vehicles. These include drones to commercial planes and even flying cars. In addition Boeing and NEA also announced a partnership, where Boeing’s vice president of Research and Technology, Charles Toups would join the board at NEA.
Boeing is on a lofty quest
According to Boeing, a future craft capable of flight would have to reach 3 goals. They would have to fly safely, land safely and navigate without the use of a GPS. Currently, according to NEA’s CEO and co-founder, Sanjiv Singh, the defining characteristic of a completely autonomous vehicle is the ability for it to make decisions. While commercial aircrafts can fly by themselves when set to autopilot, they still rely on GPS to position themselves. They are also incapable of analyzing their surroundings and adjusting accordingly without the help of a pilot.
This is what the NEA has been hoping to solve ever since their inception in 2011. They have been developing technology to aid in this process by developing sensors for mapping and survey, collision identification, and landing zone assessment. Now that they have joined with Boeing, NEA can continue their work by collecting data from aircrafts and their surroundings to come up with navigation plans.
There are a few road bumps, though
A looming challenge, according to Sanjiv Singh is to find a compact and affordable system that can gather all this data and string it together in a quick fashion. Still, this is not the biggest hurdle they have to jump over. It’s convincing the U.S. government to give their plans the green light. According to Sanjiv, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is quite strict when it comes to autonomous vehicles. At present, only small crafts (with an available operator to take over) are allowed over U.S. airspace. In order for Boeing’s and NEA’s plans to work out, both parties would have to convince the FAA that autonomous vehicles can be trusted to fly safely and even land safely, without the need for a physical operator.
Boeing is quite keen on making autonomous flight a reality for themselves. They even acquired Aurora Flight Services, which is another company developing drones. While it’s quite apparent that Boeing has high hopes for autonomous flight, can they convince others to join them in their quest to achieve great heights? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.