Imagine an eerie experience on board an unmanned aircraft, which may soon fly side-by-side with piloted passenger planes.
Well, your imagination may soon come true -- thanks to a team of scientists who are carrying out an experiment which, if successful, would make flying machines buzz about without any incident and without direct control inputs from any human.
Inside the laboratory in Seattle, the scientists watch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) airborne, swarming around the shed, their pre-determined altitudes and collision avoidance mechanisms already programmed in, using advanced algorithms that could ultimately spell the end of piloted aircraft.
The algorithms developed in the lab will soon be put to the test in the skies above Kingaroy in southern Queensland in the world's first ever trial of unmanned aircraft inside controlled airspace, the 'Courier Mail´ reported.
Small UAVs will fly in the same airspace as larger piloted planes to prove that the unmanned aircraft can operate safely alongside more traditional, human flown craft, the team from University of Queensland and aviation giant Boeing said.
Even inside the Boeing lab, the engineers fly up to a dozen small, four rotor UAVs simultaneously to test their theories and to establish the ground rules for safe unmanned flight in crowded airspace.
According to Boeing's new Australian research chief Bill Lyons, the aim is clear. "To allow (unmanned) systems to operate at least as well as human piloted systems."
However, senior Boeing engineer John Vian said the major challenge for unmanned aircraft operating in controlled air space is safety.
"We don't know how these systems will develop. For these systems to be viable they have to be reliable and totally autonomous. We develop the technology, how it is applied is up the customer," Dr Vian said.