Meet Pibot: The flying humanoid robot.

Key Points:

  • Developed by KAIST, Pibot is a humanoid robot capable of flying aircraft, leveraging AI without modifying human-centric cockpits.

  • Thanks to advances in large language models, Pibot can process and remember vast aviation manuals, adapting to varied aircraft types.

  • Beyond aviation, Pibot’s design enables it to replace human roles in automobiles, ships, and potentially defense applications.

SEOUL — Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) researchers are at the forefront of integrating AI and robotics. They're pioneering the development of Pibot, a humanoid robot, uniquely capable of flying aircraft without necessitating cockpit alterations tailored to robots. David Shim, a noted associate professor at KAIST, emphasized, "Pibot can navigate an airplane identically to human pilots, thanks to its proficiency in controlling cockpit instruments designed for humans."

The technical prowess of Pibot is particularly impressive. Equipped with external cameras, it continually monitors the aircraft's status. Its internal cameras are tailored to manage essential switches. Even under intense vibrations typical to aircraft, Pibot utilizes high-precision control tech to effectively manage flight instruments.

One of Pibot's standout features is its vast memory capacity, allowing it to store global Jeppesen aeronautical navigation charts— a task deemed unachievable for human pilots. Moreover, Shim shed light on the adaptability advantages Pibot has over human pilots. While human pilots grapple with ingrained habits when shifting between aircraft types, Pibot can seamlessly transition by merely selecting the aircraft type.

Advancements in large language models (LLM) have particularly expedited Pibot’s learning abilities. As Shim recalls, "Our initial pilot robot in 2016 was comparatively rudimentary, lacking the AI we see today. But the integration of technologies like ChatGPT has marked a pivotal progress point."

Pibot's efficiency with LLMs allows it to offer error-free flight operations. It can promptly react in emergencies, rapidly accessing aircraft operation manuals and even determining the safest real-time route based on the aircraft's status. Beyond relying on models like ChatGPT, the KAIST team is innovating a tailored language model, enabling Pibot to query without internet dependence, focused solely on piloting knowledge.

The robot’s versatility extends to direct aircraft communication and even interaction with air traffic controllers through voice synthesis. However, its applications aren't restricted to the skies. Weighing 65 kg and standing at 160 cm, Pibot's design facilitates its deployment in roles spanning from automobile driving to sea vessel command.

"The humanoid form of Pibot, while not ultra-efficient, is deliberate. The environment is structured for humans; hence, this form is optimal," Shim pointed out.

Scheduled for completion in 2026, this project, backed by the Agency for Defense Development, holds potential defense applications, reflecting South Korea's forward-thinking defense research ambitions.

Just ten years ago, the idea of self-flying planes seemed more like science fiction than reality.The aviation industry predicts small, self-flying planes could carry passengers by the end of this decade, and larger passenger jets could operate without a pilot by as little as another decade, assuming no safety incidents.

“I think the future of autonomy is real for civil aviation. It’s going to take time. Everyone’s got to build confidence. We need a certification process that we all have faith and believe," said Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun during Wold of Aviation meeting in January.

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