Warplanes: F-35 Gets an R2D2 Unit

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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 co-pilot.

 


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