AI Is Taking Flight in the Aerospace Industry

September 26, 2018 - 3 minutes read

Boeing is a major longtime player in the airplane and aerospace industry. But it’s not letting its historic past get in the way of embracing the future.

According to Boeing’s CTO, Greg Hyslop, the company is using artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify the cockpit for pilots. Because there is a shortage of pilots that is expected to spread across the globe, Boeing wants AI to help less-experienced pilots avoid dangers or get out of an unsafe situation. “That’s where we’ll see the convergence with AI,” he says.

AI in the Sky

The Chicago-based airplane manufacturer isn’t overlooking safety for a “smarter” cockpit. In fact, maintaining a high level of safety is a challenge as the number of airplanes in the sky continues growing.

Hyslop explains the problem more in-depth: “How do we maintain the existing levels of safety with an AI-based system in the cockpit? How do you show and certify that your systems are safe to the point where the flying public will say ‘Yes, I trust that’? Those are very difficult problems to solve.”

The company set up two offshoot mini-companies: Boeing Horizon X, which will focus on finding and investing in startups and new partners, while Boeing Next will work on future products, including developing AI for beyond the cockpit.

Boeing will also start the Aerospace and Autonomy Center in Boston at MIT to develop new technologies at the intersection of aerospace and AI. It will open at the end of 2020.

The Future of Flight

Hyslop is excited about Boeing’s new initiatives. “We use AI in air travel already, but it’s limited. But think again what could we do with more sensors on the airplane. Could we do a take-off in an environment where weather conditions mean a pilot wouldn’t be able to? With sensors, with AI, you could,” he says.

For his part, Hyslop isn’t worried about flying cars taking away airline revenues, but the “societal pressures are real.” For example, he says, “When we had expanded our office in Bangalore, we had a government official half-seriously, half-jokingly say, ‘It’d be great if you could invent a flying rickshaw.'”

Although the cockpits will be easier to understand for junior-level pilots, it doesn’t mean AI will do any flying of airplanes itself. “For passenger travel, we don’t see it as realistic in the near term. However, for cargo travel, you could see autonomous aircraft before too long,” Hyslop added.

We’re excited about Boeing leading the way in advancing aerospace with AI, but we agree with Hyslop — we don’t see AI taking over flight duties anytime soon. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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