September 12, 2012
IN THE FUTURE, WILL HUMANS OR COMPUTERS FLY AIRLINERS? Er, computers.
One day “intelligent” passenger aircraft will cruise across oceans in low-drag, energy-saving formations, like flocks of geese. So said European plane-maker Airbus at its annual technology look-ahead conference last night. It’s a striking idea that media outlets lapped up.
Warming to its theme, Airbus added that emissions could be cut by using a superfast ground vehicle to catapult future aircraft into the air, so that it reaches cruising speed and altitude faster. And it could land with the engines switched off, in a long, controlled “free glide” to the runway.
But how will this stuff actually work? With computers, of course. “Highly intelligent aircraft would be able to self organise and select the most efficient and environmentally friendly routes,” says Airbus.
This cosy picture of aviation circa 2050 glosses over the degree to which computers will have to assume control of the finer manoeuvres of such planes, rather than pilots.
I don’t think it glosses over it, I think it relies on it. But self-driving cars will be old hat by then so nobody will mind.