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Eventually anybody can land a plane…

The interface of Autonomi has been designed for passengers, not for a pilot. It does not require any training at all and provides information aiming at re-assuring the passengers that everything is under control and the flight is safe. Image credit: Garmin

Last years Garmin announced an auto-landing feature for its navigation system. If a pilot is no longer able to fly the plane all it takes is a passenger to press a button for 2 seconds to engage the auto-landing system. You might object that we have had planes able to land themselves using ILS (Instrumental Landing Systems) for quite some time but the ILS requires a pilot to take the plane to intercept the gliding path plus managing several other aspects, like flaps, speed, braking….

With the Garmin Autonomi the activation of the auto-land system starts up a number of processes that eventually result in the safe landing of the plane to the nearest available airport. One process searches for availability of a nearby airport and communicate with the ATC -Air Traffic Control -(using voice as if it were a pilot) declaring an emergency, the position of the aircraft and the request to land at that airport asking for clearance. Once received (again via voice from the ATC) the clearance for a specific runway it creates a flight plan and gets it cleared from the ATC (vectors, altitude and speed) then engages the autopilot on that flight plan. Periodically it communicates to the ATC first and to the airport Tower the aircraft position, verifying clearance and sets all the parameters of the aircraft to approach and then land, including voice messages to passengers (like: “ladies and gentlemen we are 10 minutes from landing, please fasten your seat belt”….). Once the plane has landed it provides instructions to passengers on how to open the doors and when to do that … (take a look at the video clip).

On May 18th, 2020, the first plane equipped with this system, a Piper, received the FAA certification to use this feature. It is an amazing result that opens the door to a new era of flying, not as much for commercial aircrafts but for the future flying cars that we have been dreaming about and that have been remained at the prototype demonstration stage because of safety concerns. One of this concern is about what would happen if the driver (is it a driver or a pilot?  -we are stepping into murky waters) becomes incapacitated. The other issue is how to manage a growing traffic density (I will address this in a future post).

What is also interesting is that Autonomi has been designed to retrofit existing aircrafts. It just requires that the aircraft is equipped with a good auto landing system. Autonomi is basically replacing the pilot, not the auto landing system of the plane.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.