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Watch a tiny robot fly an aircraft nearly as well as a real pilot

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Autonomous aircraft are likely to be the future of air travel, but we're not quite there yet; even with autopilot systems in place, most airplanes are designed with human pilots in mind. South Korean researchers may have a clever robotic stopgap, however. Their tiny PIBOT automaton uses a mixture of flight data and visuals to fly using real controls. It still needs intervention shortly before touchdown, but it can otherwise take to the skies as well as many organic air crews -- it may even be a bit better in a few areas, since it uses its camera to align neatly with the runway on takeoff and landing.

This pint-size machine is only flying a simulator right now, and it's certainly not going to captain an airliner any time soon. However, its creators are only getting started. Besides giving PIBOT enough skill to tackle every stage of flight, they're already translating its skill to real (if remote-controlled) aircraft. It's not hard to envision a future where robots stand in for flesh-and-bone pilots in aircraft that can't easily be retrofitted to fly on their own.

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