Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) are developing a robot pilot named PIBOT that can autonomously fly real planes in the sky. Although the AI-powered humanoid robot pilot is currently only running flight simulations, PIBOT shows good progress and results indicating that it can soon handle actual flights.
PIBOT was first demonstrated by the KAIST team in 2014. However, this version proved that its small design (and perhaps robotic automation technology at the time) was not enough to control a large-scale control panel of an airplane. Fast forward to today, the new PIBOT now stands at 5’3″ and weighs 143 pounds — large enough to train and run full-sized flight simulators.
Furthermore, with all the new advancements in robotic technology, AI, and large language models today, the new PIBOT can easily understand and be trained to fly different planes. All it takes is for the PIBOT to be fed the correct information, flight manuals, and navigation charts so it can fly a plane. Similar advancements in robotic automation and large language models are also currently being applied to other robots such as Google’s RT-2.
“PIBOT is a humanoid robot that can fly an aeroplane just like a human pilot by manipulating all the single controls in the cockpit, which is designed for humans”, claims lead developer David Shim. Although such thought can be scary and be met with scrutiny for some, KAIST ensures that PIBOT is perfectly capable and has even demonstrated a few advantages over human pilots.
“[PIBOT can] respond immediately to various situations, as well as calculate safe routes in real-time based on the flight status of the aircraft, with emergency response times quicker than human pilots”, says the KAIST team. Based on PIBOT’s flight in simulations, the robot pilot can also perfectly do takeoffs, landings, and taxiing. It can also accurately operate controls even when there’s harsh turbulence.
While the team expects to finish developing PIBOT in 2026, the future for the robot pilot is already bright. As this project also received funding from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, PIBOT is already being considered to be applied in other vehicles such as cars, military trucks, and other wide ranges of equipment.
With the growth of robotic automation and the rise of self-driving cars, perhaps people may find having a robot pilot fly their plane a norm soon. Certainly, the future of robots is an exciting development that is worth being updated on.