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Mike Hopkins, Eric Hahn and Robert Griffin work on the legs of the ESCHER robot while preparing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge at the TREC (Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls) Lab at Virginia Tech April 9, 2015 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has just successfully completed the first robot-manned flight yesterday at a small airport in Virginia on a turboprop plane.

The robot, which was part of a two man crew where it acted as an assistant pilot, looked simple with metal rods and tubes that acted as its hands and feet. However, its simplicity belies the complexity of its internal make-up, which allows it to do the flying during the demonstration. The robot expertly maneuvered the throttle and successfully completed the flight.

DARPA has been working with the program called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) in collaboration with Aurora Flight Sciences. They have started the program in response to the growing need for pilots in both commercial and military flights.

Asked how reliable the robots are, John Langford, CEO and chairman of Aurora, said that it is like a "human pilot with 600,000 hours of experience." He added that it can do better than a human pilot because it can react faster and smarter because it carries with it every information about the aircraft system.

Armed with artificial intelligence and an array of cameras, the robot learns not only from experience but it carries with it every piece of information about the flight in that particular plane. Moreover, its cameras allows it to see all the instrumentations in the cockpit and has the ability to interpret the data and execute the correct action.

Langford said that the idea for robot pilots is to take most of the workload from the human pilot allowing the human to think more strategically and much more quickly, especially in emergency situations. However, they are also looking forward to the day when robot pilots will totally take over and fly planes alone.

DARPA officials said that the ALIAS technology can be adopted in just as short as within five years. However, the ALIAS technology has yet to face a lot of challenges, in terms of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and also the resistance from pilot unions.