Collaborative robots in the Aviation Industry

Automation is still under development the automotive industry, while it has been part of the aviation industry for decades. Still, automation is a highly current topic in aviation as increased collaboration between humans and robots are considered as important to improve aircraft construction, testing, and maintenance, but also to function as co-pilots.

The UR3 collaborative robotic arm is to be used by Boeing as a robotic co-pilot and will add new levels of automation to aircraft and reduce crew requirements [1]. The system includes sensors, a tablet used as a human interface, and flight-control and mission software. The collaborative robot allows the system to interact with cockpit controls designed for humans. The goal is to keep the human pilots performing at peak capacity, i.e. to perform the tasks best suited to humans, while the automation can handle the tasks best for automation.

Another benefit of the cockpit automation system is its ability to rapidly train on a new aircraft as it can acquire extensive knowledge of flight dynamics, aircraft procedures, and general airmanship, e.g. by machine vision (visually gathering information) without the need for access to aircraft avionics.


[1] RIA Robotics Online Blog. How Cobots are Automating the Aviation Industry. Link

Personal comment

It is interesting to look at how automation is approached in different industries. For example, the predominant vision of automation in the automotive industry is to replace the driver for the sake of safety and efficiency. However, there are several human factors problems associated with the higher levels of automation where the driver is taken out of the driving loop, such as skill degradation and loss of situational awareness. 

In the aviation industry, though, automated systems are not designed to replace the pilot, but instead to keep the pilots active and to co-operate with the automated system during the flight. The article above presents a concept with a collaborative robot, a “Cobot”, that is installed in the cockpit and should work as co-pilot together with the human pilot. 

The development of Collaborative robots, Cobots, is interesting, not only from a technical point of view but also from Human factors perspective (roles and tasks, trust & acceptance). In the automotive industry the concept of Collaborative driving is suggested as a viable approach to vehicle automation, i.e. instead of taking the driver out of the driving loop the driver and the system operate in parallel and have a continuous two-way communication (as opposed to current ADAS’ one-way communication) that enable them to work together. For example, the system communicates what it can and cannot do, why it acts the way it does, and adjusts the type of alerts in response to driver’s state and to the driving context. For example, Veoneer’s concept “LIV” is based on these principles of collaborative driving. 

On what principles the collaboration between the Cobot and the pilot are based is not clear in the article.

Read also: 

  • Collaborative Robots Market Experiencing Exponential Growth. Link
  • Veoneer Learning Intelligent Vehicle. Link
  • Human-Robot Interaction — An Introduction. Link
  • Haptic Lane-Keeping Assistance for Truck Driving: A Test Track Study. Link