AI-powered KC-135 tested

Sometimes hunger and the desire to eat come together. And this is what has happened with the intention of equipping an airplane with AI for the United States Air Force. It all began when a startup, with government contracts to equip a KC-135 tanker plane and a C-130 transport plane for autonomous flights joined another that developed AI that fed DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) robotic dogs.

Boston-based Merlin Labs announced it would acquire EpiSci, a California-based company whose artificial intelligence helped an AI take on an F-16. Merlin Labs, which makes its own AI pilot, hopes to test it aboard an Air Force KC-135 tanker aircraft over the next year. This “core” pilot could allow the Air Force to reduce the number of pilots on its mobility aircraft from two to onefreeing up a group of aircrews and allowing the Air Force to watch AI operate during real-world missions with a human alongside.

If the deal with EpiSci closes as expected in the next two to three months, Merlin Labs will be able to add advanced skills, such as F-16 qualifications, to its primary pilot. That would make the company the first to offer an AI pilot that can fly multiple types of missions.

In February, Merlin Labs signed a deal with the Air Force to demonstrate its AI pilot on a KC-135. Last week, the company won a $105 million contract to put that pilot on the C-130 transport planeThe company will begin work on the KC-135 in the coming months and will fly the aircraft with the autonomous system next year.

“Lockheed Martin or Northrop or any of the other big cousins ​​are amazing at what they do, but ultimately it’s going to be companies like us that can provide some of the true autonomy that can complement some of their more traditional platform structures, services and infrastructure,” says Matt George, CEO of Merlin Labs.

All of this comes just as the future of the Air Force looks increasingly unmanned. After the duel between the F-16 fighters, one with AI and one manned by humans, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted that he can see “a future where agents of the Air Force are able to fly.” AI will fly in war and do it better than humans”.

Still, George admits that human pilots won’t become obsolete anytime soon, but the future is autonomous and People are not fully prepared for how quickly it will happenAutonomous systems will take some of the cognitive load off fighter pilots so they can focus on other tasks, such as operating drones. The Air Force is working on building collaborative fighter aircraft, which envision autonomous drones flying alongside fighters.

For its part, EpiSci is DARPA’s main AIR program, which will develop Artificial intelligence software for “multi-ship, beyond-visual-range air combat missions””, essentially creating artificial intelligence for an aircraft crew.

According to EpiSci CEO Bo Ryu, autonomy will be implemented in airplanes and drones gradually“When it comes to drones that work together, we are talking about one to two years for the designed AI to take over human piloting.”