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FT. BENNING, Ga. -- It looks like a hobbyist's model of a single engine Piper Cub, with a four-stroke engine and an eight-foot wingspan. But researchers at Georgia Tech have loaded its cockpit with an autopilot and no small measure of artificial intelligence.

It puts this flying machine, taking off from a red clay runway at Ft. Benning, at the forefront of drone aircraft research. At its core is a two and a half pound robotic brain, which will give this drone, or unmanned ariel vehicle, the ability to coordinate decisionmaking with other airborne robots.

"In order to make the aircraft safer and more efficient, you want the aircraft to take on more of that cognitive role," said Charles Pippin, researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. "Then if they have an issue or aren't able to come up with an answer on their own, then query the human and say what should I do with this case?"

It's that disconnect between drones and humans that gives drone warfare a coldblooded quality that has drawn its critics. But among GTRI researchers, it's about saving the human lives of aircraft operators - while making them more productive strategists.

"This allows you to perform autonomy," Pippin said, while dismissing a question about whether AI can be too intelligent: "That doesn't keep me awake at night."

Researchers expect their work over the skies of south Georgia to further transform ariel warfare - and to potentially make unmanned aircraft commonplace in civilian settings.

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