Pittsburghers are used to seeing Uber’s self-driving cars on local streets, and one Bloomfield-based startup is partnering with aerospace giant Boeing to bring similar technology into the air.
Passenger jets can already guide themselves through a planned trajectory in the air, but it's limited. They can't make their own decisions along the way or land themselves.
Near Earth Autonomy has loftier goals for aircraft, said CEO Sanjiv Singh: "To be able to react to the world as it's discovered, stay safe and then be able to perform a mission."
Those missions could include inspecting terrain during a military campaign (drones can currently do that, but they need a human behind the controls), or transporting goods or even people.
Near Earth creates the sensors and software that control those kinds of aerial vehicles.
Earlier this month, Boeing's capital investment and business development arm HorizonX announced the Near Earth partnership.
Singh said Boeing hasn't yet asked Near Earth to develop a specific product; they're still in the exploratory phase. But moving toward autonomous flight is inevitable for the aerospace industry, he said.
"An automotive company would be remiss if they were not looking into self-driving cars," Singh said.
NearEarth is also working with another major aerospace player, Airbus, on a concept for an autonomous flying car.