Germanwings Airplane Disaster highlights need for Autonomous Commercial Flight

Germanwings Airplane Disaster highlights need for Autonomous Commercial Flight

The Germanwings air disaster is a tragedy indeed, but the worst part about the disaster is how easily it could have been avoided.

I’m not talking about with further background checks or added safety protocols with security officials. I’m not referring to more mental health testing, and better tracking of any incidents that could point to a propensity to intentionally cause harm to people.

At what point to we accept that, with so much data and so many people living in close proximity, that no matter how much mental health testing or awareness we bring around these incidents, they will still occur. At what point do we begin planning ahead to better insulate society from the decisions of humans, and instead develop something that doesn’t leave our lives in the hands of someone having a really bad day?

No better example exists than on an aircraft. obviously comes with a bias towards unmanned and autonomous aircraft, but that is no slight to pilots. The job that pilots perform commercially and militarily has been indispensable to our society. But if we did everything the same as we did decades ago, where would that put us today?

The fact remains that today, at present, we have all the technology to have made the Germanwings disaster impossible. We have the ability to advance our commercial aircrafts to prevent any human or human(s) from having the ultimate power over deciding whether the aircraft crashes or does not. And the fact that anyone can completely lock out a pilot from the cockpit is, in itself, a tragedy (what if the pilot was having a heart attack?)

We at know that the age will come when transportation is dictated by autonomous systems working together so that human error is reduced from the equation. Or, at least, highway driving and commercial air travel. We did a podcast a while back with NASA talking about the Centennial challenge for UAVs. Their two key points were this:

1. Humans are more scared at the thought of a death caused by computer as opposed to one caused by a fellow human, even if we could reduce auto deaths to a fraction of the current rate.

2. We cannot forecast the degree to which a new technology like UAVs will advance in the next 10, 20, and 50 years, but we have to make sure that we are trying to make progress.

So this highlights the main challenges we have at present with autonomous systems versus human operated ones. We as a society need to progress to realizing that the amount of human error we have in transportation can be greatly reduced, but we have to re-shape our expectations from having a ego-centric, first person control over the vehicle to one that embraces the best technological solution. We also have to open to this change as the only way we can achieve this great transformation is by supporting a shift away from human-centric transportation. It starts with embracing drones and autonomous flight today.


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