Researchers at South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have built a humanoid robot pilot called Pibot to fly planes and helicopters on dangerous missions.
According to lead researcher Shim Hyung-Chul, what sets Pibot apart from autonomous drones and autopilot programmes is his ability to adapt to any type of aircraft: “Many existing drones have been developed, however, Pibot is the world first robot which can immediately automate any kind of aircraft.”
There is also a smaller version of Pibot. Shim says the one thing that all aircraft have in common is that they were designed to be flown by humans, so he and his team designed a robot that can control a plane the same way a human would.
Pibot could have been very useful during the Fukushima tragedy in Japan.
“When Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant got damaged by an earthquake in 2011, there was a helicopter which was trying to spray extinguishing agents, but it couldn’t get close to the site because of the radiation hazard,” explained Shim.
He believes if Pibot was at the controls that day radiation would not have been an issue.
The robot interfaces with a plane’s sensors and instrumentation and automates their functionality. Pibot uses real time computer vision to navigate during take-off and landing.
So far Pibot has successfully completed a rigorous flight simulation programme as well as field tests using a large toy plane. The researchers have plans to test Pibot’s flying skills in a full scale plane in the near future.