Rockwell Collins Developing Voice Recognition for Civil Helicopters

Posted on September 26, 2016 by Thierry Dubois

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Rockwell Collins is developing a voice-controlled avionics system for civil helicopters that could be in service in as little as two or three years. – See more at:

Activated using a “push-to-talk” button, the system responds to commands as simple as, “Show video,” to display the view from a camera, to more safety-critical orders — such as to the autopilot. The pilot then has to check he or she has been understood. This can be done via a digital readout speech recognition preview or a synthetic voice heard in the pilot’s headset. The pilot then validates the order with the push-to-talk button. Otherwise, the system will cancel it.

Engineers at Rockwell Collins’ research and development facility in Toulouse, France, believe the main benefit of the system will be in reducing pilot workload. They expect the optional piece of equipment to be in service on the helicopter version of the Pro Line Fusion avionics suite by 2019.

Preliminary discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration have established a 95 percent recognition rate as a minimum requirement for certification. “We met that and even hit 98 percent,” senior system engineer Guillaume Zini told Vertical.

“Central processing units have become much more capable at reasonable cost, so the advent of voice recognition in real time is a question of technical availability and affordability,” Zini explained.

About 40 pilots have tested prototypes in flight, in various conditions. Their operational backgrounds included law enforcement, offshore and firefighting, and their accents in English varied from South African to Italian and French. Several helicopter platforms were used to try different noise environments — from a heavy twin with some soundproofing, to an Airbus AS350 with a relatively thin ceiling, to “the worst case: a Mi-2,” Zini said. The Mil Mi-2 is a Russian-designed military light twin from the 1960s. – See more at:

Voice recognition is believed to be very useful for a single pilot in hands-on flight phases. The most frequent requests include “direct to,” radio frequency changes, transponder use, zooming on a map, showing engine parameters, and autopilot orders, according to Zini. He added that for the flight management system, voice control may be easier than remembering how to use a complex interface.

Rockwell Collins tried a scenario where a firefighting pilot using the system had to talk to four or five contacts on as many radio frequencies, while flying low. The pilot gave very positive feedback, Zini said. Thanks to the system, he could fly eyes-out, hands on the controls. The voice recognition system is now at technology readiness level 7 to 8, meaning it is almost ready to be commercially launched.

“We are working with several OEMs,” Zini said, adding he is confident in having voice control certified. And while the system would be more suitable as an option on a new helicopter, he said it can be also considered for retrofit.