Yesteryear's science fiction is today's reality. For instance, Amazon has legitimate plans to deliver small packages using remote-controlled aircraft, drones. The technology to do so isn't the thing that's slowing down the effort. It's the flight rules that would govern having drones in the air space. "We don't have the regulatory process that allows free flight. The FAA is struggling with that," says Dr. William Lewis, from the Aviation Development Directorate at Redstone Arsenal's Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center....AMRDEC.
Lewis is the guy leading the way in the project to develop the Army's own sci-fi dream, Autonomous Helicopters. "Autonomous behavior means there are no, there are not people in the loop," says Lewis. And he also says autonomous systems have flown missions and delivered supplies in Afghanistan. They worked well enough that the Army actually offered their use to the Japanese during the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The Japanese government didn't accept the offer, but the use of unmanned, autonomous helicopters would have taken some humans out of danger. That's one benefit to the Army's use of autonomous systems. Fewer Soldiers will be in danger; and also, "If the soldier is not involved doing the mission, the soldier can be involved doing a higher priority mission," says Williams Lewis.
Remember, this is what's happening right now. In the future the autonomous helicopters will need more power cognitive ability for more complex missions. Essentially they'll need more ability to think, and reason. "If I see a truck sitting alongside the road, that's one thing. If I see a truck sitting alongside the road with something in it, and people moving around it, I need to be able to cognitively ascertain whether or not that is a threat system. That's a very difficult challenge today," says Doctor Lewis.
Doctor Lewis also says that in 15-to-20 years, autonomous systems will be able to think, and make decisions, even if asked decide how to fight an enemy. Autonomy will be the new reality.