Aerospace’s Answer to Siri?

Apple’s voice command programme ‘Siri’ has revolutionised the way we use our mobile phones, and the way we access information. The development of smart, voice activated televisions has also been on the increase – despite recent privacy related issues.

Enter future voice-recognition technology for commercial aerospace.

In military aerospace, this technology is already prevalent – with the Eurofighter Typhoon employing a speaker-dependent system, and the new F-35 also set to include similar software.

However in commercial aerospace, the technology is only now starting to be tested and evaluated for its effectiveness. Honeywell has recently been testing its Honeywell Innovative Prototyping Environment (HIPE) on an Embraer ERJ170 – which allows pilot to replace the traditional multipurpose control display, with a tablet that receives voice commands.

The advantages? The main benefit to voice command technology in the cockpit is the decrease in the processing workload for the pilot. Such systems could eliminate many of the steps which are traditionally manual- based, into 2 or 3 specific voice commands – reducing the processing and procedure time. This then also ensures that the pilot can focus on flying the aircraft safely and efficiently – including using their vision and awareness in the critical landing and take-off phases, instead of having to constantly and physically look at the control display itself.

The challenges? The main challenge is eliminating outside noise – as an aircraft cockpit has not only pilot voices, but also air traffic control voices, other radio voices, and the general noise of the aircraft itself. Secondly, the technology itself has to be incredibly accurate in order to decipher accents from non-native English speakers, as well as the variety of regional English dialects (in both the UK and US).

Noise in the cockpit in general is a significant challenge for the aerospace industry – with the UK’s National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP) recently awarding a £150,000, 15 month grant to RACAL Acoustics, in order to run a project which seeks to develop a new hearing protection and communications headset use in high noise environments in rotary wing and fixed wing platforms. Similar technology developed through projects such as this may also be employed to help eliminate noise issues when developing voice recognition technology.

Whilst more R&D, testing and evaluation will be required before such systems are deemed safe and effective enough to use in the cockpit, the purpose behind the technology itself could bring the next generation of airlines even further into the new digital age.