CHICAGO (REUTERS) - With self-driving cars well on their way to becoming a reality, aerospace company Boeing is looking ahead to the next stage of autonomous vehicles -- self-piloting planes.
The world's biggest aircraft maker says the growing global demand for air travel and the need for more pilots is driving the development of the self-flying technology.
"When I look at the future I see a need for you know 41,000 commercial jet airplanes over the course of the next 20 years. And that means we're going to need something like six hundred and seventeen thousand more pilots. That's a lot of pilots.
"So one of the ways that may be solved is by having some type of autonomous behaviour and that could be anything from taking instead of five pilots on a long haul flight down to three or two, taking two pilots down to one in a freight situation, or in some cases going from one to none," said Mike Sinnett, vice president of product development at Boeing.
Planes can already take off, cruise and land using their onboard flight computers.
The new technology, which Boeing hopes to test in a cockpit simulator this summer, would allow artificial intelligence to make some of the decisions normally made by pilots.
If all goes well, Sinnet says the technology could be tested on a real aircraft some time next year.