Researchers Pull Off Truly Autonomous Plane Landing


A team of researchers in Germany has opened up a new era of autonomous flight with the creation of a landing system for small aircraft that lets them land without a pilot. 

There is technically an autopilot onboard most major airplanes these days, but it is very dependent on human interaction.  The planes rely on a set of radio signals emitted by special stations at major airports: the Instrument Landing System, or ILS.  These signals can tell the plane where the runway is in bad weather, but the pilot almost always just uses it as an assist. 

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have developed a system that can land a plane without any reliance on ground systems, or even a human pilot.  Thanks to visible-light and infrared cameras on the nose of the plane, a custom-designed automatic control system and computer vision processor work together to bring the plane to a safe landing.  They call the overall system C2Land, and a trial run in May brought the small single-passenger test plane to the runway in a perfect landing. 

This is a huge breakthrough in automated flight, since automated landings are not currently possible at smaller airports or if something were to go wrong with the ILS.  For now, the technology remains experimental, since it would require wide testing and certification by aviation authorities before widespread use. 

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AJ has been writing ever since he could first hold a pencil, and hasn't really slowed down since. Previously working as an editor and ghostwriter (he still does those things, actually), these days he's putting his keyboard to good use at multiple tech websites.