The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Sikorsky the contract to develop Phase 3 of its Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme, it was announced on 11 January.
The announcement, which was made by Sikorsky's parent company Lockheed Martin, will see the continued testing and demonstration of the company's 'Matrix Technology' aboard the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) S-76 helicopter and the Cessna Caravan fixed-wing aircraft already showcased, ahead of proving it on a range of new platforms.
As previously described by DARPA, ALIAS is designed to function as "a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with [a] reduced onboard crew".
Sikorsky's demonstration system fits under the cabin floor and within the airframe of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The system quickly connects to an aircraft's existing mechanical, electrical, and diagnostic systems. Through ALIAS, the pilot flies the aircraft by means of a tablet computer that recognises swiping and tapping, and can use the same tablet to fly ALIAS-equipped aircraft and helicopters.
Besides Sikorsky, the first two phases of the ALIAS programme also saw the participation of Aurora Flight Sciences which demonstrated its technologies aboard a Cessna Caravan aircraft and Bell UH-1 helicopter.
"In Phase 2, we exceeded our original programme objectives with two performers, Sikorsky and Aurora Flight Sciences, each of which conducted flight tests on two different aircraft," Scott Wierzbankowski, DARPA programme manager was quoted by the agency as saying.
"In Phase 3, we plan to further enhance ALIAS' ability to respond to contingencies, decrease pilot workload, and adapt to different missions and aircraft types. We're particularly interested in exploring intuitive human-machine interface approaches - including using handheld devices - that would allow users to interact with and control the ALIAS system more easily.
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