Speech Technologies Get Air Traffic Controllers Chattering
The U.S. Air Force last week signed an agreement with transportation communications firm ARINC Engineering Services to deploy ADATS, an automated broadcasting system featuring advanced text-to-speech technologies from STR-Speech Tech, at Eglin AFB in Florida, Randolph AFB in Texas, and Elmendorf AFB in Alaska. Following completion in February, these implementations will bring the number of Air Force ADATS installations to 21.
Air Force bases rely on Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) messages to convey relevant information—such as weather and airstrip conditions—to pilots. Air traffic controllers process raw data and communicate it via a recorded message. If an error is made, controllers have to start all over. The process can take up to half an hour. The ADATS system, however, automatically interprets the raw data and sends it out using STR-Speech Tech's TTS system.
"ADATS will permit the air traffic control personnel in these Air Force towers to automatically create, monitor, and broadcast ATIS messages," ARINC’s ADATS manager Bob Tavik said in a statement. "They should realize a dramatic increase in organizational efficiency as well as better reliability in the performance of ATIS operations."
According to Natalie Peters, STR-Speech Tech’s business development manager, the automated system takes as little as two minutes to submit an ATIS message. "Our software allows [controllers] to select from drop-down lists and select everything they need to include into the new ATIS message," she says. "Our software takes all those words and phrases they’ve selected and creates a new broadcast and sends it out over the transmitter."
While synthesized speech has often been criticized for poor concatenation, Peters insists that STR-Speech Tech's weather and aviation vocabulary is so specific that it’s unlikely there will be any significant problems. And if problems arise, a back-up option allows controllers to manually record their ATIS messages.
ADATS is an off-the-shelf product running on a basic Windows system. "We customize slightly for each airport because, depending on the area you’re in, they’ll have certain conditions that you won’t see in other locations," Peters says. There’s also a slight variance in technology at each Air Force base that needs to be considered. "Other then that," she says, "there’s nothing heavy duty about it in the sense of hardware requirements."
ADATS mostly runs on military air fields. However, as of last week, the system was delivered to a civilian airport so that it can be certified over a three to six month period by the FAA. "That’s our first big step in getting it recognized so we can sell it en masse to the FAA," Peters says.