Pilotless planes? No thanks, say more than half of travelers

facial recognition
Trevor Mogg
Although aviation experts often tell us that planes pretty much fly themselves these days, the idea of getting on one without a pilot will prompt most travelers to check the train timetable instead. Even if many of us would be willing to take a ride in a driverless car, that’s because cars travel on the ground at 50 mph rather than at 36,000 feet at 500 mph.

New research published this week confirms that most people are still not cool with the idea of stepping on a pilotless plane that can take off, fly, and land without any human help whatsoever.

The report, published by investment bank UBS, found that 54 percent of 8,000 respondents said they would most likely refuse to board a pilotless plane, even if the fare was cheaper. Only 17 percent said they’d be happy to fly on a plane without a pilot.

Breaking down the results by country, the researchers found that Americans were most comfortable about the idea of pilotless planes, with 27 percent willing to take a flight on one if the possibility presented itself. French and German travelers were the least likely, with only 13 percent expressing a willingness to give it a go.

Perhaps not surprisingly, younger respondents — specifically those aged between 18 and 34 — have the least issues about hopping aboard a plane without a cockpit. “This bodes well for the technology as the population ages,” UBS noted in its findings.

The report points out several advantages to having planes flown entirely by computers instead of humans, such as the removal of pilot error that can lead to catastrophic crashes. According to Boeing, around 80 percent of airline accidents are caused by pilot error, while the other 20 percent are attributable mainly to equipment failures.

But travelers nervous about the reliability of the technology would want to be satisfied about the security of the plane’s computers, with some fearing what hackers might do if they gained access to on-board systems or computers on the ground communicating with the aircraft during a flight.

Huge savings … for airlines

Airlines are getting interested in pilotless planes for one main reason: costs. UBS estimates that the industry spends more than $30 billion on pilots every year, so replacing them with computers offers obvious benefits. The report also suggests that significant fuel savings would be made because autonomous planes would fly more efficiently.

Although it’s hard to say when paying passengers will be flying on pilotless planes, USB points out that “the technology to remotely control military drones already exists, and this technology could be adapted to control … small to medium-sized business jets and, eventually, commercial aviation.” Indeed, plane makers are continuing to improve existing systems that already allow commercial airliners to fly without pilot assistance for much of the flight.

As flight autonomy increases, commercial airlines may first reduce pilots in the cockpit from two to one, while cargo planes would likely be the first large aircraft to do away with pilots altogether. But when it comes to taking them off passenger jets and redesigning the plane to remove the cockpit (and add more seats), well, we’re looking forward to seeing the industry’s marketing strategy for that one.

Emerging Tech

Exploding vape pen battery starts fire on SkyWest flight

A vape pen battery caused a fire in an overhead bin on a SkyWest Airlines flight on Wednesday. It's the latest in a string of incidents where faulty or poorly made lithium-ion batteries have caused gadgets to catch fire.
Emerging Tech

Airbus will stop making the world’s biggest passenger plane

Airbus announced this week that it will stop building the world's biggest passenger plane in 2021. The maker of the double-decker A380 said a changing market and lack of orders gave it little choice but to end production.
Gaming

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Emerging Tech

Own a drone? New rule means you have to change the way IDs are displayed

Registered drone owners will need to put their machine's ID number on the outside of the aircraft from February 23 in accordance with a new FAA rule. It means the ID can no longer be placed inside the drone's battery compartment.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘Refabricator’ lets astronauts recycle 3D-printed tools to make new ones

The International Space Station just received a fancy new gadget in the form of a Refabricator, a machine capable of 3D printing using recycled plastic materials. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Words are so 2018. The Peeqo robot speaks exclusively in GIFs and video clips

Move over, Amazon Echo! Peeqo is a cute robot that will answer your spoken word questions by displaying a specially selected short video or GIF. Because, you know, it’s the year 2019.
Product Review

Yuneec’s Mantis Q will make you wish you bought a DJI drone

Yuneec’s high-end drones are arguably the ones to beat in terms of flight control, design, and their photographic capabilities. But the company has struggled to make a low-end drone that’s worth buying, and the Mantis Q is proof of that…
Emerging Tech

Photosynthesizing artificial leaf may be the air-cleaning tool we’ve dreamed of

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have invented an artificial leaf which could both clean up our air and provide a cost-effective type of fuel. Here's how it works.
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.