Aurora Flight Sciences has been awarded a $6 million DARPA contract to develop cockpit automation.

The contract, for Phase I of DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, calls for Aurora to develop "an automated assistant capable of operating an aircraft from takeoff to landing, automatically executing the necessary flight and mission activities, checklists and procedures at the correct phases of flight while detecting and responding to contingencies," said a company news release. "At the same time, the human pilot would be continuously informed through an intuitive interface of which actions the automation is executing, and take back control if so desired."

Aurora is collaborating with the National Robotics Engineering Center and Duke Engineering Research Institute. "The ability to reassign cockpit roles, allowing humans to perform tasks best suited to humans and automation to perform tasks best suited to automation, represents a potential paradigm shift compared to how flight operations are currently conducted," said Jessica Duda, Aurora's ALIAS program manager. "One of our key challenges is to develop a system that creates trust between the pilot and the automated assistant."