A consortium led by BAE Systems is trialling a new form of pilotless plane over the Irish Sea right now, which does away with the human element altogether, in favour of a drone that follows a pre-set route all by itself.
The test is a new thing in drone research. Instead of a pilot running the mission by remote control, BAE's latest test depends entirely upon software, with a route pre-planned and pre-programmed in advance. This would mean the plane could fly for days on end, carrying out its missions, without any human input whatsoever.
The current test is running with the software installed on a 18-seater, propeller-driven Jetstream, which is currently doing some test runs over the Irish Sea. One key element they're demonstrating is the craft's collision avoidance skills, which will be tested by flying a light aircraft right at it and seeing if it can manage to safely steer around it.
That's what the world's air traffic controllers will want to know before it's let anywhere near the busier bits of sky. And there are pilots onboard this test flight, in case it all goes wrong. It's not ready yet.
The test is part of the ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) project, which is being backed by Rolls Royce, French defence contractor Thales and others. [Guardian]