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by Mike Zazaian September 13, 2006 - 9:51am, 9 Comments

Munich Airport

Cisco Systems Chief Technologist Dave Evans has lofty plans for the airports of the future, but will the government, or necessity, be able to keep up?

Cisco Systems Chief Technologist Dave Evans sprung a slew of new aviation technologies on attendies of the FAA/NASA/Industry Airport Planning Workshop this weekend. The event, held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, featured Evans’ suggestion that pilots of the future could fly without hands, outside the plane, in their underwear.

Evans beleives that advances in brain-machine interfaces, in which the human brain actually exchanges electronic signals with a computer via electronic wires, could be the key to remote flight in the future. Pilots could concievably sit at home eating a bowl of Cheerios as they pilot the red-eye to Tokyo, all the while navigating with a video camera located in the plane’s cockpit. A move which prompts the questions, Should we do something just because we can, and how will consumers react to these changes?

Despite Evans’ optimism about the upcoming changes, many participants of the workshop remained wholly skeptical. Steve Martin, chief financial officer at the North American division of industry association Airports Council International, believes the implementation of such technologies is much more difficult than their production.

I think it’s a real challenge for government to react to technology changes, whether it’s security or flying. I don’t see government agencies being able to keep up with technology’s exponential growth.

A more practical technology suggested by Evans was one in which Airport screeners could remotely check in passengers carrying a cell phone embedded with an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip. Evans also discussed the use of Virtual Intelligence Personnel, perhaps an android or computer, which could actually learn to do the jobs of airport employees simply by interacting with them. Evans built a similar technology for Cisco which can perform such menial tasks as making travel reservations, or indicating to an employee where a certain filing cabinet is.

With an aviation industry that still uses Boeing jets from the seventies, is it wise to make such updates that circumvent the needs of consumers? Sure, some airport employees are ill-mannered or unkempt, but that doesn’t mean we should spend billions of dollars to replace them just because we’re able to. Not to mention, it might be hard to convince the millions of uneasy fliers to get on the plane if they know that there’s nobody in the cockpit. As legimate as the technology may be, and as useful as it might be to pilots and employees of the industry, such a move in the next few decades would likely bring a slew of opposition, the likes of which wouldn’t be worth the benefits such technology could offer.

[via cNet]