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Aircraft Lands Itself Autonomously for the First Time

A German aircraft landed itself without any human interaction using only automated systems.


The coming decade will be dominated by automation. AI and increasingly complex algorithms are slowly becoming essential parts of daily life for millions of people. This past week, a team of German researchers pushed these types of bleeding-edge technologies even further by creating a system that allowed an aircraft to land itself autonomously.

The innovation is courtesy of the researchers at Technische Munchen. While an autonomous landing system of this style has been in the works for years, this most recent iteration of the system is the first to find success in a practical test. It’s an enormous step forward for automated systems, and it speaks to the potential of future innovations.

What makes this landing so impressive?

Airplanes use automated technologies all the time. Gears and internal mechanisms are actuated by algorithms, pilots use automated navigation tools, and the majority of modern planes are equipped with extraordinarily powerful computers. This raises an important question: what makes this most recent example so special?

In spite of the above examples of automation, an airplane still requires a lot of human input to return safely to the ground. Most of these inputs come from radio signals that actuate a plane’s ILS systems.

This system informs the plane and its pilot of numerous pieces of essential information. It allows the plane to find the runway in low-visibility situations, for example. Most often, pilots use these systems as an assist when bringing the plane down. Until now, the process of returning a plane to the ground has required a highly complex series of interactions between the pilot, those in the command station, and the plane’s automated systems.

This test is so impressive because the plane was able to land by using only automated systems. Perhaps most impressively, the plane did have a pilot on-board, though no input was required from them.

What type of equipment made this possible?

When developing this technology, the research team had numerous obstacles to overcome. The largest role pilots play in the docking process is locating the runway. And in spite of how far they have come, there aren’t any AI that can accurately locate a runway currently in existence. This complication meant that the researchers needed to get creative in getting the plane to the ground.

GPS technologies, while invaluable in aerospace navigation, weren’t’ useful in this situation. The technology only provides the system with a general idea of the plane’s location and isn’t precise enough to pinpoint an area as small as a docking zone. Ultimately, researchers came to the conclusion that they would need to use the same tools a pilot would: a pair of eyes.

A cutting-edge visual processor was developed for this purpose. When paired with the team’s automatic control system, it was able to accurately and efficiently guide the plane, a Diamond DA42, to the ground.

Machine learning was used to train the system to recognize the shape and size of a runway. According to researchers, the computer is able to outperform human pilots in recognizing a docking zone from a distance, which speaks volumes to the technology’s potential.

How will this technology impact the future of airlines and flying?

While this most recent test was a success, the technology is still in development. It will be a long time, possibly more than a decade, before the technology is ready to replace human pilots entirely. Until then, the discoveries made will likely inform the incremental development and improvement of newer ILS systems to make docking aircraft safer and more consistent.

In the far future, this technology will likely become the rule rather than the exception when it comes to how people travel. Expect to see this tech in all of the following places:

  • Autonomous aircraft docking
  • Self-driving cars
  • Systems employed by delivery services like Amazon and UPS

As technology moves forward, we do too: our engineers at Secure Data Recovery are innovating each and every day. We’re able to recover lost or compromised data from every kind of device and operating system. If you need to recover data from a hard drive, mobile device, tablet, or SSD call us at 1-800-388-1266 to schedule a consultation.

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