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The future of flight

MIT’s AI Lab is a busy hub of practical inventions and idealistic passions.

Recently, they showed off a new system of personal aircraft control they’ve created in conjunction with airplane manufacturer Boeing.

One of MIT’s Graduate students, Peng Yu, displayed their vision of the future some 20-30 years down the road.

Yu and his team developed a variety of ways for commuters with no airplane piloting knowledge to effectively control either a personal aircraft or a flying taxi.

Using voice, keyboard input, tablet, and motion gestures, Yu showed how easily an average person could operate a remote-controlled airplane.

Tablet – Using Google Now, Yu spoke into the tablet to control a demo AR Drone. Through a custom app Yu’s team created, the Drone responded to Yu’s commands, such as telling the drone to lift-off and fly to a certain location on a miniaturized city model Yu’s team built.

Gesture – Yu demonstrated through Xbox’s motion sensing Kinect device how a user could direct an airplane to and from locations with arm and hand movements.

This application has obvious limitations, but could be useful for deaf and/or mute commuters. The sensor calibrates with the person’s body, and each body movement has certain pre-programmed instructions, such as lifting off.

Keyboard – With an average consumer-level keyboard, Yu piloted the demonstration drone around the room, displaying the ease with which anyone with basic keyboard experience could potentially pilot an airplane. This is an especially viable option for office workers to commute to and from work simply and safely.

Voice – Speaking into a computer microphone, Yu dictated his desired travel route to a computer program. This demonstrated how future aircraft could act as flying taxis, with intelligent computer programs operating the airplane safely. For larger airplanes carrying groups of people, this option is perhaps the best suited. Instead of hiring permanent pilots, pre-programmed destinations and commands would allow airplanes to bus people across larger cities.

Now that computer technology is becoming increasingly smarter and more widely implemented, the next step towards achieving a Jetsons-like future is for vehicle and airplane manufacturers to jump on board.

With innovators like Peng Yu creating the means through which computers will replace pilots, the only thing left is to build the airplanes.

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