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Diamond Aircraft, a German manufacturer of small single- and twin-engine planes, has developed a technology that has the potential to save many thousands of lives. In case of an emergency, an autonomous system takes over to fly the plane to the nearest airport and land it safely.

It sounds too good to be true, but Diamond recently made a successful landing using the proprietary technology it spend the last few years developing. Their name for it, the “electronic parachute,” is a bit of a misnomer. This is really an advanced autopilot that’s closely following the trend in automation and self-driving vehicles.

According to Christian Dries, Diamond CEO, the system is sophisticated enough to know which airport it best take the airplane. After all, you don’t want to end up at the unstaffed, remote airfield that might be closest.

The electronic-chute works by monitoring the state of the pilot. This works similarly to systems that recognise when a pilot is suffering from a lack of oxygen associated with high altitudes – hypoxia. By monitoring the pilot’s activity, the system recognise risky situations. It then tries to alert the pilot by generating a noise. If the pilot fails to respond, the system will take over and guide the plane to safety.

This won’t save anyone from a mid-air collision, but loss of control is the leading cause of fatal accidents, which this system addresses. It will be launching next year as an optional feature on Diamond planes, adding about 10% to the total cost – some $80,000 to $100,000. It’s not cheap, but when you’re paying close to a million dollars, some extra peace of mind should be worth the price.