November 12, 2016

...AND SAFER...:

Flight response : An artificially intelligent autopilot that learns by example (The Economist, Sep 17th 2016)

ON JUNE 1st 2009, an Air France airliner travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris flew into a mid-Atlantic storm. Ice began forming in the sensors used by the aircraft to measure its airspeed, depriving the autopilot of that vital data. So, by design, the machine switched itself off and ceded control to the pilots. Without knowing their speed, and with no horizon visible in a storm in the dead of night, the crew struggled to cope. Against all their training, they kept the plane's nose pointed upward, forcing it to lose speed and lift. Shortly afterwards the aeroplane plummeted into the ocean, killing all 228 people on board.

French air-accident investigators concluded that a lack of pilot training played a big part in the tragedy. As cockpits become ever more computerised, pilots need to keep their flying skills up to date. But pilots are also in short supply. In July Airbus predicted that 500,000 more will be needed by 2035 to keep pace with aviation's expected growth. That means there is pressure to keep aircrew in their cockpits, earning money, rather than in the simulators, taking expensive refresher courses.

Help may be at hand, though, from artificial-intelligence (AI) experts at University College London (UCL). Inspired by the Air France tragedy, Haitham Baomar and his colleague Peter Bentley are developing a special kind of autopilot: one that uses a "machine learning" system to cope when the going gets tough, rather than ceding control to the crew.

Posted by at November 12, 2016 12:05 AM