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Study on Automatic Flying Technology Using Intelligent Pilot Robots

The Unmanned Vehicle Industry Is the New Growth Engine for Future

According to 2016 data from the Ministry of Science, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Future Planning, the global market for unmanned vehicles is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 22% from $24.8 billion in 2015 to $67.3 billion in 2020. As unmanned vehicles will likely be used in various fields, when all the related industries are taken into account, they are expected to emerge as a very important new growth engine for future. Thomas Frey, a prominent futurist, has mentioned commercial drones and unmanned vehicles as one of the new core industries for the next generation. Keeping pace with this global trend, South Korea has formulated the “Five-Year Plan for Unmanned Vehicle Development (2016 to 2020)” in order to enhance its technological competitiveness for unmanned vehicles, and various research institutions in the country are working strenuously to develop related technologies. At the heart of the development of future unmanned vehicle technology is the goal of developing a common technology that can be applied integrally without distinction to the army, navy, and air force. In fact, the United States, the European Union, etc. have already established and are currently implementing integrated strategies for developing unmanned vehicles for the use by all of their armed forces.

Advantages of Automation of Existing Vehicles

Basically, when it comes to the research and development of unmanned vehicles, it is usually appropriate to focus on the development of individual use technologies, where individual objects are developed for each specific purpose. However, if a humanoid robot could be installed on the existing vehicle platforms used for unmanned operations, it would become possible to more effectively utilize all of the platforms and related infrastructure that have already been developed for various purposes. This approach has many advantages in terms of the scope of utilization and economic feasibility. For example, when a humanoid robot is used, it is possible to get to the site of disaster using existing vehicles, in disaster situations which can put a driver in serious danger, as was the case with the 2011 Great Earthquake in Eastern Japan, which exposed people to intense radiation during fire-fighting operations. In economic terms, a humanoid robot used for the unmanned operation of an existing airplane can do so at a cost that is one-fiftieth that of an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The biggest advantage is that the automation can be applied to just about any device that a person can sit at and control. However, the actual realization of this approach requires diverse technologies in diverse fields, including console recognition technology, console device operation technology, motion state measurement technology, communication technology, control technology, mission designation technology, and emergency response technology, and so forth.

Successful Development of Intelligent Pilot Robots

Professor Shim Hyun-Chul’s research team at the KI for Robotics has received much attention for its outstanding research accomplishments in the field of unmanned operation of existing vehicles, a unique and creative field in the research for unmanned vehicles. In particular, this study included the development of a humanoid robot capable of operating small airplanes, which can be programmed to control every function of an airplane as well as its stabilization. The robot can recognize the complex configuration of the cockpit and using the cameras mounted on its arms, accurately control various switches. For the actual flight control of the aircraft, the data provided from the sensors mounted on the robot as well as data from the aircraft are used. The flight control generates control commands necessary for stabilization and guidance of the aircraft, and for their implementation, the control commands for and between the controllers are issued. What is most impressive about this technology is that there is no need to fix or add any part to the airplane for the pilot robot. The robot can use all the existing switches and levers, including the steering wheel, fuel throttle valve, rudder pedals, etc. in the regular airplane cockpit. In addition to flying an airplane, at Creative Economy 2016, the research team successfully demonstrated the robot’s automatic manipulation of the Hyundai Ionic Electric Vehicle by modifying it to be able to drive a car. Like the pilot robot, the car-driving robot can be used for any existing vehicle without any modification. As mentioned above, the research and development of pilot robots can lead to very useful outcomes, given the wide scope of its applications: when a pilot robot is used, the existing manned airplanes which account for the vast majority of airplanes in the aviation industry can be automatically controlled. Further, any car, ship, etc. which is controlled by a person inside can be automated. For this reason, there are high expectations for the R&D activities of professor Shin’s research team. The robot developed in this research was introduced at the Annual Meeting of New World Champions of the World Economic Forum in June, 2016, and in August of the same year, it was intensively reviewed as a new innovative technology in the influential magazine, “Economist.” The technology has been highly recognized globally, as demonstrated by its coverage in IEEE Spectrum and Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet.

Prof. Shim, Hyun Chul
2016 Annual Report

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