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Flying without pilots: Britain's robot plane

It is the ultimate flying machine: a robot plane which can take off, land, and even avoid bad weather without human intervention.

But far from being a scientific dream, one is currently flying in the skies above Britain as part of a test programme.

The engineers behind the technology say it represents the future of air travel and could even be used on passenger jets to allow pilots to fly alone.

Until now, unmanned aircraft have been limited to military use in war zones such as Afghanistan, while police in Britain have also used small remote controlled models fitted with surveillance cameras. Both usually require pilots on the ground to fly the aircraft remotely.

The new system, however, can fly civilian aircraft unaided. Unlike the autopilot system used in most passenger aircraft, it can fly without the need for pilots in the cockpit.

On-board cameras scan the sky for potential hazards and the robotic pilot can recognise other aircraft, hot air balloons and even parachutists before taking action to avoid them.

The cameras also detect clouds, allowing the system to identify and avoid potentially dangerous weather conditions.

"It is doing all the things a human pilot would be doing," said Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, engineering director of systems and strategy at BAE Systems, which has developed the system, and programme director of the consortium conducting tests on the pilotless plane.

"The level of autonomy can be gradually increased. The system flies by itself on a preprogrammed course until it detects something is wrong. Then it suggests manoeuvres that an operator using a laptop on the ground can confirm or reject.

"If the communication link goes down or the operator is not paying attention, the on-board system will take action to keep the aircraft safe.

"In an emergency, it can use infrared cameras to identify safe sites to set down aircraft by itself and can look for body heat to make sure a landing area is clear of living things."

The system is being tested in a converted Jetstream passenger aeroplane fitted with a bank of computers, switches and relays that can take control of the plane, which is being flown in an 80-mile (79.37-kilometre) wide area of airspace over the Irish Sea, off the coast of Preston.

Pilots on board fly the aircraft into the test area before switching over control to the computer system, which has been developed using technology BAE has used in its military unmanned aircraft.

Using data from a satellite navigation system, on-board cameras and transponder signals from other aircraft, it is able to map out a safe route through the sky.

Mr Dopping-Hepenstal said if all goes well, he expects to see the first unmanned aircraft being used in British airspace by the end of the decade and it could initially be used to perform search and rescue missions over the sea or in remote areas.

Ultimately, it could be fitted to passengers jets as a full backup to passengers, although the prospect of passengers flying in totally pilot-less planes is not being seriously suggested.

He said: "Human crews are limited by the amount of time they can spend in the air. An unmanned vehicle could stay in the air searching all night long or in weather conditions that may pose a threat to manned aircraft.

"Having no pilots on board passenger planes is probably a step too far, but we could end up having just a single pilot or the technology could provide emergency systems that can take over should something happen to the crew or if they fail to spot something that poses a threat."

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, which is part of the consortium carrying out the pilot-less tests, said unmanned aircraft were currently restricted to "segregated airspace" where they were being tested.

He said: "For unmanned aircraft to fly in non-segregated airspace alongside manned aircraft will require the development of 'sense and avoid' technology, which will allow them to operate safely with other airspace users."

The first tests of a passenger plane flown by a robotic pilot are taking place in British airspace. Richard Gray goes on board to see what it is like

With a sudden rush of speed, the small plane I am sitting in lunges along the runway.

Along with photographer Julian Simmonds, we are the first members of the public to fly on board a unique aircraft -one that pilots itself.

Former RAF Nimrod pilots Graham Morgan and Bob Fraser are taking us to the Irish Sea, where we can test the robotic pilot's ability to detect and avoid aircraft.

With a flick of a switch, the plane is under the control of a computer. And, surprisingly, it feels very smooth.

Due to the adverse weather, we have to simulate the collisions instead of using another plane. Rod Buchanan, group leader for the international flight systems team at BAE, creates a blip on his laptop and the robot immediately flags up that we are on a collision course.

If left alone the robot will manoeuvre itself to avoid a crash. We go through five or six simulations, the robotic pilot gently banking the plane each time to avoid a collision.

Mr Morgan explains that the system can see problems "much sooner" that he can.

After an hour, the human pilots take control and perform a smooth landing.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/flying-without-pilots-britains-robot-plane-20120709-21qkm.html

/ About us

Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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