Artificial intelligence is having a moment. And the explosion of interest recently unleashed by generative AI models, which can conjure everything from programming code to photorealistic imagery with a written prompt, has created a unique messaging challenge for autonomous aircraft startups.
On the one hand, investors enamored of ChatGPT might be eager to throw money at any company that is incorporating AI into its technology stack, as many of these startups are doing. On the other, savvy aerospace investors know there is no simple or well-defined path for certifying AI in aviation applications, making the inclusion of AI a potential risk factor. Appealing to both groups simultaneously isn’t easy.
Xwing walked this fine line earlier this month when itannounced that it submitted a project specific certification plan for its Superpilot autonomy technology to the Federal Aviation Administration, positioning the California-based startup to become the first company to certify a standard category aircraft for operations without an onboard pilot. Xwing plans to install Superpilot first on the fleet of Cessna 208B Caravans it is currently using to conduct conventional, piloted cargo operations for UPS.
In the press release announcing the milestone, Xwing claimed its uncrewed aircraft system is “the first certification project to use AI and machine learning to improve the safety of taxi, take-off and landing, the highest-risk phases of commercial aviation.” That careful phrasing reflects the limited, safety-enhancing role that AI will play in the first version of Superpilot, although the company expects AI to feature more prominently in future iterations of the product.
“[AI] is used in very small and specific pieces of the tech stack,” Xwing Chief Technology Officer Maxime Gariel explained in an interview with The Air Current that dived deep into the company’s AI strategy. “We keep on hearing that ChatGPT is going to change the world … this is not what that is. It’s really about where in solving the problem of autonomy we don’t have solutions using existing methods.”
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