NASA wants to make autonomous planes a reality

It’s just one of the unmanned aviation projects they’re exploring.

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Richard Newstead via Getty Images
Richard Newstead via Getty Images

Self-driving cars are quickly becoming a reality, but self-flying planes? It might seem far off, but NASA wants to make them happen. Today, three different aeronautics teams received the go ahead to explore projects related to unmanned autonomous aircraft.

The first study explores "safe inclusion and certification of autonomous systems in aviation" -- or, to the rest of us, self-flying aircraft. This project will focus on the algorithms necessary for machines to make safe decisions on their own, without human input. We need to have confidence that a self-flying plane will make prudent choices, after all.

NASA also green-lit a project that will autonomously verify that a drone is fit to fly before it takes off. If the program senses an anomaly (such as damage to a system or hacked software), the drone will ground itself. Finally, the third team will research advances in quantum computing in order to better regulate and monitor the many drones that fly each day.

While all of these advances are certainly interesting, the prospect of a self-flying plane is the most intriguing. Sure, we have a long way to go before they're used commercially, but self-flying planes could make air travel cheaper (though not necessarily any less demeaning) for everyone.

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