Engineers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) have made a robot that can pilot an aircraft without needing to modify the cockpit.
Using AI to pilot airplanes seems like a logical step to take but interfacing the logic of AI with the controls has always been the challenge.
The US Defense Force has already used AI to pilot an experimental jet but it had to be modified to be flown by a non-human pilot.
Pibot removes the need for cockpit modifications. David Shim, a professor at KAIST, explained that “Pibot is a humanoid robot that can fly an airplane just like a human pilot by manipulating all the single controls in the cockpit, which is designed for humans.”
The robot is 160cm tall, weighs 65kg, and its humanoid design allows it to sit in the pilot’s seat as a human pilot would. It uses external and internal cameras to keep an eye on the status of the aircraft and to direct its robotic arms and hands to the controls.
ChatGPT-powered robot pilot
The performance of the mechanical robotic movements, even during severe vibration, is impressive. But it’s ChatGPT that makes Pibot truly special.
Using the LLM Pibot is able to “read” and memorize an aircraft pilot’s manual and instantly know how to fly it.
Human pilots normally train on a specific airplane type and need retraining when they have to fly a different model.
For Pibot it’s just a matter of inputting the new manual and it instantly knows exactly how to fly the new airplane model.
The same advantage extends to quickly learning and memorizing flight plans. Its memory is large enough that it can memorize all the Jeppesen aeronautical navigation charts around the world. There’s no way a human pilot could do that.
The creators of Pibot expect it to perform flawless flying due to its ability to react faster than human pilots and with zero emotion, even in emergency situations.
Currently, Pibot relies on an internet connection but the team is working on replacing ChatGPT with a custom LLM that would run locally on an onboard computer.
Would you prefer a robot pilot over a human one? It’ll be a while before we need to consider that as Pibot is still in development and will only be completed by 2026. It will be interesting to see how its first real-life performance as a copilot goes. If it goes as well as they expect then we may see airline pilots joining the picket lines along with other workers threatened by AI.
Besides flying airplanes, David Shim says that Pibot can replace a human anywhere one is “sitting and working”. That includes cars, tanks, or ships.
The idea of AI pilots flying fighter jets and tanks is terrifying but imagine what Pibot could do in an F1 car.