Honeywell Tests Voice Recognition in Plane Cockpits

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Honeywell Aerospace has begun testing voice recognition inside aircraft cockpits.

The company is currently using its Honeywell Innovative Prototyping Environment (HIPE) to flight-test voice recognition in an Embraer ERJ170 aircraft and is working with pilots and customers to assess its usability, safety, and efficiency in real airborne scenarios.

Andy Drexler, director of marketing and product management at Honeywell Aerospace, says the project is still very early in the engineering phase, and the goal is to have a finished product available in 2017.

More than likely, the technology would first be adopted by smaller plane manufacturers before working its way into the commercial airline industry, according to Drexler. "That's typically the way new technology gets introduced in the flight industry," he says.

Honeywell expects voice recognition in the cockpit to eliminate many manual steps required to execute commands, thereby decreasing workload and allowing pilots to focus on flying safely and efficiently. Among the activities that pilots will be able to do with voice is functional navigation, allowing them to access information in the flight control systems without having to scroll through complicated menus. A speech-to-text capability will allow pilots and air traffic controllers to better communicate with one another.

For the project, Honeywell Aerospace is using speech technologies available through Honeywell's Vocollect division, which supplies voice-based warehouse management systems. Some other technologies will be available through industry partners.

Honeywell is still working on perfecting the technology to ensure it works at various noise levels and with various accents and languages. Although English is the official language of the aviation industry, it is still a second language for many pilots, Drexler says.

"We're spending most of our time on the noise issue," he states. "You need a speech engine that is robust enough to handle all the noise in a cockpit."

Also part of that effort would be designing the right wake-up technology to activate the voice recognition. Most likely, it will involve some sort of push-to-talk button, Drexler says.

According to Drexler, Honeywell has been working with more than 100 pilots to devise the system. Many of them, he says, were initially skeptical about the technology but are quickly becoming true believers.

"We're looking at making pilots' lives easier," he says. "They need to react quickly in a crisis, and there is a safety benefit because they can respond more quickly with voice."

Drexler also says voice could also help pilots better adhere to schedules and flight plans and, ultimately, get their passengers to their destinations more quickly and safely.

"It's an exciting thing to have speech in the cockpit," Drexler says. "The time is right and the technology is right now to bring it into the aviation world."

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