Robert Rose, Co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the future of autonomous airplanes.
- Reliable Robotics is a startup company that's been working on autonomous flight. They actually reached a new partnership this week, as they look to build and, I guess, perfect, I should say, the next-gen flight automation systems. For that, we want to bring in Robert Rose. He's a co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics. Robert, it's great to have you on Yahoo Finance.
You're a leader in this space when we talk about aircraft automation. You've been testing flights, from my understanding. I guess the big question, what everyone wants to know is, how close are we to this becoming something that's widely adopted and widely used?
ROBERT ROSE: Closer than you think. I think it's going to take a lot of time to get there. We have a lot more testing that needs to be done and certification processes that need to be worked through. And I think the transformation is also going to occur in cargo first. And that's why we're focusing on small cargo operations, specifically operations that enable vehicles like the Cessna Caravan to operate remotely.
- In fact, you flew that Cessna Caravan not too long ago. It's a Cessna 208, I think. And I'm not a pilot, but it's just so cool. There was no pilot in the front seat. They were doing this from a control tower 80 miles away, correct?
ROBERT ROSE: Well, to be clear, we're still in an experimental test phase. And so we do have a safety pilot on board the plane. But we have demonstrated unmanned operations on a previous vehicle, on our Cessna 172, which is a four-passenger aircraft. We did demonstrate unmanned operations of that vehicle over a populated area in the United States. In the Cessna Caravan, we still have at least a year or more, likely two years to go on certification of this system before this could become a routine technology that can be used on a regular basis.
- Robert, the new partnership that you reached this week, I guess, how is this going to enhance the safety and the confidence, do you think, in autonomous flight?
ROBERT ROSE: So we're working with a number of partners. And this week, we announced a partnership with, I believe, you're referring to Daedalean. This is a company based in Switzerland. Their founder and CEO, Luuk Van Dijk, I've known him since 2010, over a decade now. We worked together at SpaceX.
He's working on a particular portion of this problem focusing on sense and avoid and using vision-based systems for detecting surrounding aircraft. It's a complementary technology to what we're developing. We're focusing primarily on automation of the vehicles and the remote operations. And obviously, sense and avoid is a key component in enabling these types of operations.
- Can you give us a timeline where we as passengers, if it'll happen in our lifetime, might be able to fly aboard a plane where we don't have to be a pilot, where it will be totally autonomous?
ROBERT ROSE: It's going to happen sooner than you think. I want it to happen tomorrow, trust me. But it's going to take time for us to work through with the regulatory processes. Again, this is why we're starting first on cargo.
I think the transformation is actually going to occur on small aircraft initially. I think it's going to take some time before the large transport category planes, the large passenger jets are fully automated. I actually believe that there's a great deal of opportunity in the near term enabling regional travel.
So, for example, we currently use about 130 airports today on routine basis in the United States. But we actually have 5,000 airports available for public use. And for someone like me, I want to be able to travel out to these regional airports.
I've got my mother-in-law and my family live in Oregon, and there's no major commercial service for us to get there. And my wife and three boys, it takes 12 hours to drive or 12 hours on a commercial plane. And that's because you got to go all the way up to Portland, Oregon and then drive several hours.
But there's a municipal airport right next to their house. And so in the near future, you'll be able to rally a plane perhaps using your phone and fly out of your local municipal airport and take this to any place in the country that you want to go.
- A lot of this technology, though, in some forms, it's existed for years. Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't planes been-- computers have been landing planes for decades, or is that just computer-assisted?
ROBERT ROSE: I know. The military's been doing this for decades. And even in the commercial world, there's a great deal of automation that enables the en route portion of an aircraft to be automated. And much of landing is automated.
But one thing that's not apparent to most people is actually automated landing is only made available at a small handful of airports in the United States because you need infrastructure at the airport in order to enable it. This is one of the first problems that we solve at Reliable Robotics is this navigation problem of knowing very precisely where the aircraft is relative to the runway. And with a system like ours, you can put an aircraft down onto a runway in zero visibility, total whiteout conditions at any runway in North America.
- Hey, Robert, just real quick because we only have about a minute left here, but how much do these systems cost? And how long does it take to install something like this?
ROBERT ROSE: The installation process in the early days, it's going to take time. And the equipment is going to cost a fair bit. This is one reason we're focusing on cargo first because these small aircraft are easier to integrate with. And we can recover the costs of bringing the technology into these aircraft systems somewhat quickly.