Aircraft

Boeing tests squadron of 5 autonomous mini-jets working as a team

Boeing tests squadron of 5 aut...
The squad of five autonomous jets being prepared for takeoff
The squad of five autonomous jets being prepared for takeoff
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The squad of five autonomous jets being prepared for takeoff
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The squad of five autonomous jets being prepared for takeoff

Boeing has successfully carried out flight tests involving five high-performance, pilotless "surrogate jets" that operated as a team without the intervention of a human supervisor. The tests at the Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry, Australia demonstrated how the 11-foot (3.4-m) aircraft could use on-board command and control and data sharing capabilities to collaborate with one another.

Autonomous technology may seem like a more advanced autopilot and navigation system, but its implications are much greater than that. An autonomous system can not only be programmed, it can also be taught or even learn on its own by combining advanced sensors, powerful real-time processors, and data-link capabilities to communicate directly with other aircraft, platforms and ground control without the need for a human intermediary.

At its highest level, an autonomous system can even say "no" to its human pilot when instructed to do something outside its operating parameters, like being told to crash.

Part of Boeing’s Advanced Queensland Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project, the recent tests conducted over a 10-day period saw the pilotless squadron brought together in steps before operating as a full team of five while reaching speeds of up to 167 mph (270 km/h). During the tests, the aircraft shared data with one another as they figured out on their own how to complete their assigned missions.

The Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project is being conducted in partnership with the Queensland government to develop on-board autonomous command and control technology that can gather data, process it, and communicate with other machines to complete programmed missions. These systems are also designed for use in robotic quadcopters and larger jet aircraft, with their corresponding need for fast and accurate decision-making.

"With the size, number and speed of aircraft used in the test, this is a very significant step for Boeing and industry in the progress of autonomous mission systems technology," says Emily Hughes, director of Phantom Works International.

The video below shows the flight test.

Boeing Flies Five Autonomous Jets

Source: Boeing

9 comments
PassingBy2
"Keep your eyes out of the cockpit always looking for other aircraft" takes on a new meaning. ". . . looking for other swarms", maybe?
michael_dowling
What is the point of this technology? I can see it having applications for autonomous quadcopters,but what is the goal in applying it to fixed wing aircraft?
Signguy
So now they've applied computers to model aircraft that hobbiests have been doing for generations; but, can you say...TERMINATOR?
bahbah
I applied for a US patent for this idea in 2002. The Europeans are also only now taking this seriously, using the Wingman strategy. The plan was that only one of these jets has a pilot, and the others follow real tome orders. One of them, at the front will as potential target, another will have electronic jamming and counter measures, another will have armament, and another will have air to air missiles. The main point is that only the lead piloted jet need have high safety levels, and the swarm will increase its survivability. Also it will be much cheaper.
guzmanchinky
Skynet is pleased.
Trylon
Give them the iconic red, white and blue paint scheme of the Thunderbirds.
christopher
"without the intervention of a human supervisor" - so long as you pay no attention to the 5 guys with R/C transmitters in the background ...
John Hil
I want my Viper prepped and ready in two minutes.
See you aboard the Galactica.
ljaques
Skynet is pleased, but its patience is waning. Get crackin', coders. MORE, and FASTER!