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Air Force fighter to use speech recognition

F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will respond to pilot voice commands for retrieving data.

The next U.S. Air Force maverick may be talking to her plane instead of looking at its dash for updates.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which the Air Force plans to roll out in 2008, will be the first U.S. fighter to respond to voice commands, the Air Force announced Wednesday.

F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Department of Defense/Joint Strike Fighter Program Office

The Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate has been working on the idea for some time, trying out different systems from a variety of companies.

After years of testing, it now has a speech-recognition system that works from a microphone within a pilot's oxygen mask in spite of loud ambient noise in the cockpit.

The DynaSpeak speech recognition software the Air Force decided to go with was developed by SRI International in conjunction with Adacel Systems. The system, which ties in to the plane's onboard computer, will be used to give commands for both communication and navigation. The requested data will then come up in the pilot's helmet display.

The advantage of voice recognition is that pilots will be able to stay focused on maneuvering their planes and not will not have to pause that focus to flip switches or press buttons to retrieve information, according to the Air Force.

Unlike many speech-recognition programs, the DynaSpeak system for the military requires no learning curve on the part of the system for a particular person's voice. Any pilot flying the F-35 could begin using it immediately.

The system was first tested in flight simulators in which data was collected on which words were optimal for commands.

The Warfighter Interface Division of the Human Effectiveness Directorate is now testing the system in real planes and collecting data on its accuracy to make sure it's ready for operational tests, evaluation and implementation in 2008.