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Look, no hands! Airbus nails autonomous takeoff in move toward pilotless jets

Maybe you’re cool with the idea of taking a trip in a driverless car. But how about flying in a pilotless plane?

Airbus believes highly autonomous passenger jets will one day be a thing, with the European aerospace giant already heading in that direction.

In fact, this week Airbus revealed that it recently achieved the first fully automatic vision-based takeoff using a test aircraft at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France.

Just like most autonomous-car tests, the aircraft had a couple of trained pilots at the controls just in case something went awry during the eight takeoffs that took place across a single day last month.

“The aircraft performed as expected during these milestone tests,” Airbus test pilot captain Yann Beaufils said in a report on the aircraft maker’s website.

Describing the initial test, the pilot said: “While completing alignment on the runway, waiting for clearance from air traffic control, we engaged the auto-pilot. We moved the throttle levers to the takeoff setting and we monitored the aircraft.  It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centerline, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected takeoff pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne.”

The takeoff was enabled by image-recognition technology installed directly on the aircraft. Looking ahead, the plane maker is aiming to test automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences by the middle of 2020.

Airbus says its overriding aim is not to build a pilotless plane, “but instead to explore autonomous technologies alongside other innovations in areas such as materials, electrification, and connectivity.”

In other words, in a similar way to how we’re seeing autonomous technology gradually added to cars, any move toward full autonomy with airplanes is going to take a very long time to happen.

While many airplanes are already able to fly themselves for the most part, extra autonomy could help airlines to tackle the aviation industry’s growing pilot shortage as aircraft that currently use two pilots could operate with just a single “safety driver,” though regulators — and indeed passengers — may take some persuading.

Rival plane maker Boeing has also said it believes in “self-piloted aircraft” that would enable a gradual reduction in the number of crew members. Boeing executive Steve Nordlund said in 2018 that for it to happen, “a combination of safety, economics, and technology all have to converge, and I think we are starting to see that.”

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
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[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
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Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

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AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

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4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

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