Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Planes Without Pilots

Catherine Wortel
Current Event 1- Biology 1 Honors
Markoff, John. "Planes Without Pilots." The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
“Planes without Pilots” stated that advances in aircraft technology will eventually lead to planes being controlled by automated robots. After the Germanwings crash, people are asking if airplanes would be safer if human co-pilots were eliminated. Even though most of the plane is computerized already, substituting a robot for a co-pilot would lower the risk of malfunctions on a flight.
The process of embedding automated piloting software has been approved by the Pentagon, and has been used to fight Islamic terrorists. This software has saved a great deal of pilots and planes from being destroyed. The Pentagon, and with the help of Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (Alias),  is currently planning to create its first robot that will operate as a co-pilot.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (Darpe) has been trying to design the robot with three contesting companies to build and design it. The characteristics of the robot will include listening, speaking, being able to help in emergencies, and be “visually aware” of its surroundings. By using human equipment on aircraft, the robot will also be able to take control of the flight.
Others, including NASA, have been proposing new ideas such as replacing the co-pilot on multiple aircrafts and using one operator for all of them. They also started to implant an automation software called Terminal Sequencing and Spacing for the United States’s air traffic control. They would use this instead of traffic controllers. This new system would prevent the likelihood of aircrafts crashing, and would keep all the airplanes at a moderate speed, and aid the congestion of airplanes currently flying.  
But, Mary Cummings, Duke University’s director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory states, “You need humans where you have humans.” Although she agrees that automated robots will enhance air and space technology, some people would be skeptical about the idea of not having an actual person control the plane. Robots are not infallible.
This article has a major influence on the world of traveling. If we exchanged co-pilots and air traffic controllers for robots and drones, many jobs would be at stake. Yes, the robots would most likely not make any technical errors and could be inexpensive, but as Mary Cummings stated in the article “A pilot on board an aircraft can see, feel, smell or hear many indications of an impending problem and begin to formulate a course of action before even sophisticated sensors and indicators provide positive indications of trouble.”  
The last sentence of this article states, “If you put more technology in the cockpit, you have more technology that can fail.” I agree with this statement, yet the author of this article had not touched upon the potential for hackers to infiltrate the computer software of major airline companies that would have their planes manned by robots. The possibility for intentional catastrophes is very likely, especially having listened to the news this week about terrorists hacking into “highly secure” French TV stations. Nevertheless, I felt that the flow of the article was good and I learned great deal about the possible future of flying. Even though planes are mostly automated, I would rather have a pilot on board.


  1. Catherine did a good job of summarizing the article and making sure to include the viewpoints of both sides of the argument. Her explanation to real life problems that replacing humans with robots on planes was developed and well thought out. She used quotes well to help her argument at the end and explain the article.
    Something that was interesting to me was that they say that the robot will be able to communicate, listen to commands and have vision. Another things that was interesting is that the military is already using it and there have been many problems with drones in the past but they still want to use robots as pilots when there are humans on board.
    One thing that could have used work was the critique of the article. The majority of the critique paragraph was her opinion on the material of the article not how it was written, credibility, etc.

  2. Cathrine's report was highly detailed and gave the reader a good sense of what the article was about. She did a great job of explaining the main points of the article, including what the robot discussed could do, along with its possible limitations. She also cited quotes from the article, which made her argument and summary stronger.
    The contents of this report took me by surprise, as I had no idea that airlines were looking to eliminate the position of co-pilot. What surprised me even more was that they want to fund more research for robots to be co-pilots, because of the economic drawbacks, increased risk of terrorism, and lack of human common sense and individual thought that would come with making robots pilots.
    I thought that Cathrine could have done a more thorough job critiquing the article, and not just giving her opinion at the end.

  3. Catherine did an excellent job in her review of the article "Planes Without Pilots." She did a great job summarizing the article so that only the most important information was included, as to not bore the reader. I love how she connected her report to other current events by mentioning the hacking of the French TV stations because it supported her point that the program could be hacked. She also did a good job of including arguments for and against the technology by experts. From reading the article and Catherine's current event report, I learned about this newly developed technology and how it could potentially change the face of air travel. This is an amazing advancement in the field of science and its interesting to learn how robots are starting to replace humans. To improve her article, there were a couple details in the review that weren't consistent in the article that I wish she would fix and the critique of the article definitely has to be added to. Overall, Catherine wrote a great current event report on a very interesting article.

  4. Catherine did a very good job in her review! She did a very good job summarizing the article with a lot of detail from both sides of the argument, which allowed me to understand the article really well. She used a lot of quotes from the article, made by different scientists and science companies, which gave different perspectives on this certain issue, broadening the readers' viewpoint. She also included her viewpoint very clearly in the last paragraph, which I liked and thought was useful. I found it very interesting how there might be a possibility that co-pilots are going to be replaced by robots (systems) partially because planes are already mostly maneuvered by systems, and also to prevent malfunctions. I also found it interesting how there is a software that has been introduced which has been used to help fight terrorists. It is fascinating to see how technology is becoming the head of it all. One thing that I would encourage Catherine to do next time would be to critique the article and the writing style a bit more, rather than just stating her opinion. Overall, I think she did a great job!

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