The Robots Are Taking Over

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On a recent flight through Chicago, I looked out the window as the plane was taxiing to the gate. Instead of seeing a person standing in the tarmac waiving in the plane, there was a sole pylon with two light batons hanging from it.

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Maybe I missed the person waiving in the plane? Or maybe this was a quick improvisation to make up for a staff shortage?

Regardless, this had me thinking about the potential impact of automation. I do hope that one day people don’t have to waive in planes and can instead work in other areas away from huge machines, exhaust fumes, and bad weather.

There are many ways to be able to potentially automate the task of directing a plane to a jet bridge:

  • Lights embedded on the tarmac
  • Heads up display guiding the pilot
  • Unmanned ground vehicle with lights on it

However, while the technology for all of these has existed for at least 40 years or maybe even longer, the barriers are all at the human level:

  • Government safety requirements (FAR/JAR/CAR)
  • International aviation safety requirements (ICAO)
  • Funding to implement infrastructure changes

These three are much more difficult to get around. A more complicated solution like a UGV that mimics a human is more likely to be flexible enough to meet the requirements and work alongside other humans that an overhaul of the system altogether.

It’s funny because it’s easier for us to use complicated technology than to try to resolve human made problems related to governance.

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