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