Researchers in South Korea are developing a robotic pilot that could potentially replace humans in the cockpit. Unlike drones and autopilot programs which are configured for specific aircraft, the robots' humanoid design will allow it to fly any type of plane with no additional sensors. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is Pibot - the world's first humanoid robot pilot. Researchers at South Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology built him to fly planes and helicopters on dangerous missions. According to lead researcher Shim Hyung-Chul, what sets Pibot apart from autonomous drones and autopilot programs is his ability adapt to any type aircraft. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) CREATOR OF PIBOT AND SOUTH KOREAN PROFESSOR AT KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (KAIST), SHIM HYUN-CHUL SAYING: "Many existing drones have been developed, however, PIBOT is the world first robot which can immediately automate any kind of aircraft." This is 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 way a human would. The idea for Pibot came to Shim during the aftermath of the 2011 Japan Tsunami. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) CREATOR OF PIBOT AND SOUTH KOREAN PROFESSOR AT KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (KAIST), SHIM HYUN-CHUL SAYING: "When Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant got damaged by 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 radiation hazard." Shim says if Pibot was at the controls that day ---- radiation wouldn't have been an issue. The robot interfaces with a planes 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 rigourous flight simulation program as well as field tests using a large toy plane. The researchers have plans to test Pibots flying skills in a full scale plane in the near future.