October 16, 2007:
The U.S. F-35 is being equipped
with a speech recognition system. While this is the first time an American
aircraft will be using such a system, French pilots have had this technology
since the 1990s. A voice recognition is being installed in the new Eurofighter
aircraft. The French Rafale fighter also uses such a system.
But there has been resistance in America to
implementing a technology that allows pilots to talk to their aircraft. Now,
many tasks that previously required a button push, can now be executed with a
spoken command. Tests in actual cockpits have demonstrated accuracy of 98%,
which is higher than many human crews are capable of. Typical tasks for spoken
commands and electronic ears are requests for information on aircraft condition
or changing the status of a sensor or weapon system (which can be presented on
the see-through computer display built into the visors of many pilot helmets).
A typical speech system can recognize hundreds of words, including some in
slurred speech common during high stress maneuvers. The spoken commands save
the pilot the time required to press a button or flip a switch, or glance
sideways to view a display.
What is developing here is the appearance of, in
effect, computerized co-pilots. These systems use computers to constantly
collect and examine information from the dozens of sensors on board. These
sensors range from the familiar fuel gage, to radar and radar warning devices.
Often overlooked are the numerous calculations and decisions pilots must make
in flight. For example, on an interception mission, the pilot must decide how
best to approach distant enemy aircraft. Radar will usually spot other aircraft
long before weapons can be used. There may also be ground based missile systems
aiming radars at you. These conditions present several options; should you go
after the enemy aircraft with long range missiles? Or speed up and engage with
more accurate cannon and short range missiles? You also have to worry about
your own fuel situation, and which of your systems might be malfunctioning. The
AI (Artificial Intelligence) computers memory contains the experiences of many
more experienced pilots as well as instant information on the rapidly changing
situation. You can ask your electronic assistant what the options are and which
one has the best chance of success. The pilot can then make decisions more
quickly and accurately. When enemy aircraft are sighted, the electronic
assistant can suggest which of the many maneuvers available are likely to work.
If the aircraft is damaged, the electronic co-pilot can rapidly report what the
new options are. One becomes quite fond of computers once they have saved your
bacon a few times. Many of these capabilities are being installed piecemeal, as
part of electronic countermeasures or radar systems. And, bit-by-bit, these
"thinking systems" are being merged, producing an electronic