An experimental AI system is helping train the next generation of fighter pilots.

What’s new: The U.S. Air Force is using deep learning to evaluate the progress of around 50 pilots in one of its training squadrons, Popular Science reported.

Cloud-based data: Built by the California startup Crowdbotics, the system harnesses data generated in flight by F-15E airplanes (or simulations). Each aircraft records numerous data streams, such as air speed and position, multiple times per second. Instructors use the system’s output to tailor feedback to each student.

  • The system grades trainees on their landings by monitoring the aircraft’s angle of approach, position on the runway, and remaining fuel. A plane that’s heavy with fuel may need to maintain a higher speed as it touches down than one that’s almost empty.
  • It compares a trainee’s performance across different flights to evaluate improvement over time. It also compares trainees within a group, helping instructors to home in on areas for improvement.
  • The project is funded by Small Business Innovation Research, a competitive government program to nurture technologies that show potential for commercialization. The program will determine the project’s commercial viability within two years.

Behind the news: Several machine learning projects aim to improve pilot safety by taking advantage of the data produced by modern aircraft.

  • Paladin AI, based in Montreal, analyzes flight and simulator data to help train commercial pilots by assessing their in-flight maneuvers, awareness of their surroundings, and ability to follow procedures.
  • Aura built a computer vision system that monitors helicopter instrument displays to generate performance reports for helicopter pilots-in-training. Purportedly it cuts training time by as much as 10 percent.

Why it matters: Training pilots is costly, time-consuming, and risky to both personnel and aircraft, which can cost tens of millions of dollars each. It’s also ongoing, as each type of aircraft requires unique instruction. AI can make training more effective, efficient, and safe. It can also allow instructors to focus on trainees who need the most attention.

We’re thinking: The sky's the limit for machine learning in training applications.

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