We all know that self-driving cars are well on their way to moving into the mainstream. Now there's an equivalent in aviation.
The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, otherwise known as ALIAS, is a program being developed by the government and a private contractor to replace airplane pilots with robots.
At the moment, ALIAS requires a human copilot in the cockpit to punch in commands into a tablet, but developers envision a day when planes with solo robots at the controls are a common mode of travel.
Proponents argue that ALIAS would solve airlines' pilot-shortage problem, and that the automatons would be faster than humans and able to process data without our pesky fallibility.
Evidently those proponents haven't seen a lot of sci-fi horror movies.
Critics, including pilot unions, counter that robots can't match humans when it comes to solving problems in emergencies requiring improvisation and ingenuity. Not to mention human pilots' ability to look out the window.
In any case, we're probably still at least a couple decades away from robots calling the shots in cockpits, not only because the technology still needs to be perfected, but also because of good, old-fashioned, human-created red tape. Installing robots as pilots would require huge changes to Federal Aviaion Administration safety regulations—and even small alterations to that code can take years to implement.