Though autopilot is not a new technology, Airbus's Chief Technology Office Grazia Vittadini said the company is hoping current advances in artificial intelligence will help complete the step to completely autonomous planes. "That's what we're looking into, artificial intelligence, to free up pilots from more mundane routines," Vittadini said in an interview with Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty at Munich's Digital Life and Design conference Sunday. Currently, the company is working on moving to single-pilot operations, with full autonomy coming later. Airline executives, though reluctant to speak on the topic, would benefit from autonomous planes as they seek to cut costs and handle ongoing shortages of qualified pilots -- two issues that could be addressed by efficiency improvements pilot-less planes would provide. The biggest challenge for planemakers like Airbus is convincing regulators to approve the technology, Vittadini said.
The just-out-of-stealth company Xwing unveiled its first demo flight on Thursday. While people were on board the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, none of them were piloting the aircraft. The aerospace company showed off its autonomous tech from take-off to landing during multiple flights over the Bay from its hangar east of San Francisco. For each flight, two to three passengers were on board, including a back-up pilot. Xwing is part of NASA's Unmanned Aircraft System program, and is working with the FAA for other certifications.
Volocopter is preparing to run inner-city tests of its autonomous air taxis in Singapore, starting in the second half of 2019. The company and the city-state's civil aviation authority are determining the scope of the tests, which Volocopter plans to conclude with public demo flights. The vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles look like a cross between a helicopter and a drone, and have 18 rotors working to get you from one place to another. Volocopter claims its machine can fly two people up to 30 kilometers, while it can account for micro turbulences close to skyscrapers to keep your rides smooth. "We are getting ready to start implementing the first fixed routes in cities," Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter said in a press release.