Monday, March 07, 2011

Robot Pilots, Kites, Cutting Strings

ISTANBUL -- European jet manufacturer Airbus, expanding cockpit automation across its entire model lineup, is introducing a new feature to help planes fly close to each other in busy airspace without triggering airborne-collision warnings.

Slated to be phased in over the next few years, the move underscores the company's commitment to increasingly rely on automation -- without requiring any pilot commands -- in order to reduce the hazards of midair collisions.

... The goal, according to Claude Lelaie, is to allow aircraft to climb or descend within 1,000 feet of each other -- typically during cruise and while following instructions from air-traffic controllers -- without triggering collision warnings that otherwise would disrupt flight paths by requiring planes take immediate evasive action. The Airbus official said such warnings, called collision-avoidance advisories, frequently prompt pilots to overreact by making their planes climb or dive too steeply or for too long. Such responses can injure passengers and inadvertently create dangerous conflicts with other nearby traffic.

Airlines told Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., they were "fed up with all the nuisance" warnings, Mr. Lelaie told the conference sponsored by the Flight Safety Foundation.

To eliminate the problem, the new feature will kick in, on its own, to smoothe out aircraft flight paths and ensure that computers aboard converging planes automatically communicate with each other about intended trajectories. Planes headed toward each other will automatically reduce vertical speeds as they approach assigned altitudes.

... Yet today's flight-control revisions go well beyond previous Airbus automation initiatives, because activation of the new safety feature no longer will depend on what pilots do or fail to do. The plane's flight-management computer and autopilot effectively will take over whenever midair-collision warnings pop up in the cruise phase of flight. Cockpit instruments will make pilots aware of what's happening, though they won't have a role in adjusting the aircraft's trajectory.

Airbus to Expand Automation Features on Jets -

So because human pilots are annoyed
by collision warnings—or over-react,
fly badly and injure passengers—the
flight-management computer, the robot pilot,
will take over in the event of a collision
warning and fly the plane away from danger
instead of the pilot.

Oh boy.

No, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go
I wouldn’t go by airline on a plane
with a robot pilot at the controls
and I wouldn’t sail my own small sailboat
on the ocean with huge container ships
because I’m sure they’re helmed by robots, too,
no, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go
I think I’d flutter there—I’d go up high
on a really good, high-tech kind of kite
somewhere off the east coast and from up there
when all my instruments were looking good
I would manually press a button
that would cut away the connecting string
tying my kite to North America
and then the trade winds would blow my kite east
across the Atlantic while I enjoyed
the shifting fluttering view as my kite
fluttered slowly downward over England
and the Channel and then touched down in France,
no, really, if I could go to Paris
by any method I wanted to go,
I’d flutter to France by kite—no, really.

No comments: