British Army Eyes Speech Recognition System for Its Helicopters

HAMPSHIRE, England -- The U.K. Army Air Corps completed another round of flight trials this week using the Direct Voice Input (DVI) system from QinetiQ in its Gazelle helicopters. The system, in development for the past two years, allows pilots to control the helicopter’s avionics equipment with their voices through their aircrew helmet microphones and intercoms.
Ben White, QinetiQ’s media relations manager, says the company hopes the technology will become more mainstream as its value is recognized within the flight industry. QinetiQ would like to expand the technology beyond the military into the private-sector and commercial aviation industries.
“We believe that this technology has reached a high level of technical maturity, as demonstrated during our recent trials, and we envisage DVI hardware integrated with commercial avionics units installed in operational military platforms,” White says. “In doing this we would be able to prove the workload-reducing and possibly situational awareness improvements afforded by DVI in operational scenarios.”
Time-consuming and increasingly complex technology inside the helicopters led the U.K. Army Air Corps to seek a solution that would enable a pilot to spend more time focusing on more crucial conditions outside the aircraft. New, multifunction displays include menu structures many tiers deep, and require both solo and group pilots to complete numerous, tedious tasks during flights.
The DVI system incorporates speech recognition technology developed by Aurix and QinetiQ’s Air Vehicle Integration group. The latter group developed the technology to function properly in challenging acoustic environments. According to White, eliminating background noise accounted for most of the system’s problems in early flight trials.
“When we started working with this technology in helicopters back in 2005 we encountered problems with recognition rates in severe noise environments, but through a concerted period of laboratory trials and the analysis of data from our initial flights we were able to solve these problems and push the technology,” White says.
Though the system is speaker-independent, White says, voice commands are used only to control non-flight safety commands, like changing a radio frequency or finding the length and orientation of a runway from a navigation system. Security is not a present risk factor, he says, but it could become increasingly significant when and if the technology reaches a point that it can control the aircraft’s complete flight.

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