ariis
Posts: 387
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Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 8:36 am

Hi there,

having a recent opportunity of listening to famous channel 9 on a UA flight (actually Ted), also listening to my scanner, I often find myself wandering, why is it still being done via radio by people talking to each other?

I'm not an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that listening to long sentences spoken by the ATC or the pilots (with all the noise, various accents, etc) is a tremendous waste of time, effort and requires too much unnecessary concentration of the speakers and listeners.

In nowadays world, I don't believe such an analog way of communication will remain for long. I am quite confident that sending out compressed digital messages addressed to particular receiver(s) (instantly followed by a local voice synthesizer, if such is needed, or a blinking mark on the MFD/HUD showing where to turn, climb, descent, etc) would make things easier, more effective and safe (unless system fails, of course, but voice ATC could remain as a backup in some cases). I am not talking about automated ATC, but ATC staff clicking on buttons instead of speaking on radio.

I know, it is not easy: money, tradition, habits, procedures, responsibility upon failure, and so on; so many problems in deploying such system.

However, is there something being done toward it? Any tests being carried out? Any near future plans? Is voice fading out somewhere already?
If some experts would make a comment, I would appreciate it.

Thanks in advance
FAO

P.S.: From an occasional listener's (read: spotter's  Smile) point of view, losing the ability to listen to it all would be uncool, but if that would help safety...
FAO - Flight Activities Officer
 
corey07850
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 9:08 am

Currently the most widely used digital communication system is ACARS, but that is not used for ATC purposes...

CPDLC is a system that has been around for a couple years, but hasn't really taken off by the airlines. ATC can send a digital command to an aircraft to do simple things like climb or descend, but I believe the pilot still has to readback over the radio. I'm not exactly up on the details, but it has been discussed in the past here.

I believe ADS-B, which is supposed to replace ground based radar, will also eventually have a similar feature...

In all likelihood, voice-based communications are going to be around for a long time though, especially for situations such as emergencies
 
lincoln
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 10:03 am

Quoting Ariis (Thread starter):
I know, it is not easy: money, tradition, habits, procedures, responsibility upon failure, and so on; so many problems in deploying such system.

I also think that some speed would be sacraficed by going to a point-n-click or even CLI-based solution.

For example, say you want to have a flight to climb...

You first have to find that flight-- in a drop down list, plain list, or God help you if you have to find and click on the RADAR target.

Then you have to select the instruction to issue... again, how? A list of some sort, text entry box? So you click on "Climb"

The system prompts you for an altitude which you enter or select from a drop down list[1].

You click on "OK"

The system prompts you to confirm that you want to issue the instruction to climb to xxxx thousand feet. You do.

A LED starts flashing on the flight deck of the affected flight, and after a few seconds, the captain notices, reads, and confirms the instruction.

Meanwhile, only the "addressed" aircraft is aware of the instruction, so the situational awarness of every other aircraft goes down the tubes.

So you sacrafice some safety, and it takes longer to issue the instruction (I can gaurntee that a controller can verbally issue the command "American 1 23, climb and mantain ____ thousand" much quicker than they could point and click--or even type the same command-- and that's assuming that they clicked on/typed the right item (for example if they clicked on "America West" instead of "American" (or typoed AS instead of AA) then there's no contest.

Just my humble opnion

Lincoln


[1] I understand the obsession with drop-down lists - it preforms automatic data validation (i.e. it is impossible to enter an invalid value) but they still irritate the hell out of me.
CO Is My Airline of Choice || Baggage Claim is an airline's last chance to disappoint a customer || Next flts in profile
 
Bobster2
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 10:45 am

No. That's not how it would work.

The controller can speak, but the verbal command is digitized and sent directly to the airplane's flight computer.

ATC says "Cactus 273, turn left heading two seven zero" and then the plane immediately turns to heading 270 degrees automatically. Very fast. No pointing and clicking needed.

It would also work for airline dispatchers. They could program the flight computer directly by digital transmission. Why should the pilots have to waste time re-entering flight data? It only needs to be entered once by the dispatcher.
"I tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn." Jim Morrison
 
Newark777
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 10:52 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 3):
and then the plane immediately turns to heading 270 degrees automatically.

Automatically? So ATC is in essence controlling the plane? That's a big threshold you're crossing there....

Harry
Why grab a Heine when you can grab a Busch?
 
MissedApproach
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 11:13 am

Same category as robot airplanes (not UAV's, but computer-flown). Such a system would probably be extremely reliable, but only in routine operations. As soon as you hit a situation that hasn't been thought of by the programmers you're up sh*t creek. A person can make a decision with no prior training or experience, something no computer will ever be able to do in our lifetime.
I also don't think anyone would want to trust such a machine if they knew it was in control, in the same way they would never get on a plane without pilots.
Now, if you had a system that handled routine traffic & kicked things over to a human controller whenever things fell outside normal parameters, that would be a different story. I suspect that for the most part though, it's simpler & cheaper to pay a person to do the job.

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 3):
verbal command is digitized and sent directly to the airplane's flight computer.

I have never seen voice recognition software that didn't get confused at some point. How many times does your cellphone ask which name you just said?
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Bobster2
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 11:15 am

Quoting Newark777 (Reply 4):
That's a big threshold you're crossing there....

I was half joking, but why not? We trust a computer to fly the plane but we don't trust a computer to respond to simple ATC commands?

The pilots could always override the automation at any time. But if the pilots concur with the ATC commands, they shouldn't have to do anything.

Before my last flight, I saw the captain scrolling through a 20 foot long computer printout looking for info to manually program the flight computer. With the technology we have available now, that's really insane.
"I tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn." Jim Morrison
 
lincoln
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 11:19 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 3):
No. That's not how it would work.

The controller can speak, but the verbal command is digitized and sent directly to the airplane's flight computer.

I barely trust Speech-To-Text applicatons enough to dial a phone number on my cell phone...and that's in a very defined speech environment (i.e. there are a very limited number of things that I could say and be valid. If I say "Name Dial", the only (valid) thing that can follow is one of the names in my phone book.)

On the other hand such a system as you propose would have to be able to recognize thousands (tens of thousands?) of different voices, speech styles/patterns, command syntaxes, etc. (even such minor differences as "American One-Two-Three", vs "American One Twenty Three" vs "American One Hundred Twenty Three" or "One-Four Thousand" "Fourteen Thousand" would have to be accounted for)... and the number of combinations are virtually infinite.

And then there's the mis-recognition factor. What happens when the STT engine hears "Northwest" as "Midwest" due to background noise, inflection, a cold the controller has or whatever?

In order for this to be safe, the system would still have to readback and have the controller confirm the insturction... And I won't even touch on the huge reduction in safety that you would have by taking control away from the pilots.

I think speech to text/dictation has a long way to go before it can be used in a life-safety (Air Traffic control) application.

The system we have now works. There's not much that can go wrong, it's relatively inexpensive to maintain, the bugs have been worked out over decades of use... What would be gained by changing it?

Lincoln
(I'm a automation programmer/integration consultant by trade)
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Bobster2
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 11:21 am

Quoting MissedApproach (Reply 5):
I have never seen voice recognition software that didn't get confused at some point

Not a problem. The controller would verify the voice recognition before transmitting the digital code. Controllers always have to verify that the information was received. Worst case scenario the controller has to say command again, but that's no different from the current system.
"I tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn." Jim Morrison
 
Newark777
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 11:29 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 6):

I agree, but have the pilot select something to confirm the change, and not have the plane just start mysteriously changing course without pilot input. At least when the autopilot is flying the plane the pilots have inputted the route and know exactly what is going on.

Harry
Why grab a Heine when you can grab a Busch?
 
Mir
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 12:55 pm

The system is not broken, why mess with it? How many accidents are due to a pilot not hearing ATC right? I'd venture a very low number, if any.

Simply put, there is nothing out there that is faster and more efficient than radio for conveying information from controller to pilot. Radio monitoring helps to maintain situational awareness for the pilots, and radio is the perfect way to handle short bits of information that are used immediately - which is what most transmissions are.

Radios are simple. They rarely fail. They can convey more information than any other system, thanks to their ability to let the pilot hear the controller's tone of voice (something that pushing buttons and voice recognition cannot do). Why replace them?

-Mir
7 billion, one nation, imagination...it's a beautiful day
 
ariis
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 6:32 pm

First, thank you all for your input posts.

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 2):
I also think that some speed would be sacraficed by going to a point-n-click or even CLI-based solution.

I have realized it after posting my thread starter: depending on the interface, issuing a simple digital command could take as long or longar than just saying it. But, on the other hand, I do believe that dedicated system can be optimized to allow trained controller to do the job fast. That is another technological problem to solve, though.

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 6):
I was half joking, but why not? We trust a computer to fly the plane but we don't trust a computer to respond to simple ATC commands?

I agree, that from plainly technological point of view, we no longer need ATC controllers neither cockpit crew. BUT, that is as far as everything is going as planned. We do need them for, as someone mentioned, unusual situations that programmers cannot predict thus computers cannot handle. This is the thin line that is so hard to cross.

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 7):
I barely trust Speech-To-Text applicatons enough to dial a phone number on my cell phone...

Definitely. I happen to be familiar with voice recognition and I know what pain it is to differentiate among say tens of words, not to mention thousands (with noise, emotion, accents...). Especially short messages, where you can't rely on contextual information. The amount of computation required is also tremendous, so real-time digitization is unfortunately out of discussion for years to come.

Quoting Mir (Reply 10):
The system is not broken, why mess with it? How many accidents are due to a pilot not hearing ATC right? I'd venture a very low number, if any.

That is a very good reason for leaving the system as it is. But we always need to find ways to improve, don't we?  Smile

FAO
FAO - Flight Activities Officer
 
Mir
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 8:37 pm

Quoting Ariis (Reply 11):
But we always need to find ways to improve, don't we?

What is there to improve? The basic concept of the system works extremely well - the only improvments necessary are to make radios lighter, cheaper, more clear and more reliable.

Quoting Ariis (Reply 11):
issuing a simple digital command could take as long or longar than just saying it. But, on the other hand, I do believe that dedicated system can be optimized to allow trained controller to do the job fast.

The nice thing about voice transmissions is that they allow the controller's hands to remain free to do other things (such as stripmarking) that are essential to their job. There is a fair amount of writing with pen and paper in ATC, and for good reason - when the shit really hits the fan, there's nothing more reliable than pen and paper for the purposes of storing little bits of information (no electrical power necessary). When things get busy, controllers are continuously talking and writing at the same time. And while one could conceivably write with one hand and issue commands with the other, it's much more ergonomically efficient to leave the hands with only one task. For example, try writing with one hand while playing the piano with the other - you're not going to be able to do either very well. Yet talking while playing the piano is not hard at all.

-Mir
7 billion, one nation, imagination...it's a beautiful day
 
bri2k1
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Mon May 08, 2006 9:21 pm

The human ear is also able to more easily distinguish the voice from a background of noise and clutter than any digital/analog convertor. Any type of digital encoding of the instruction into a waveform modulated carrier will then be susceptible to noise, interference, and errors, and even the best error-correction (Reed-Solomon outer encoding comes to mind) isn't as good as plain old human intervention. It's faster, and more data can be transmitted at once, but even listening to a busy approach controller during peak hours, the amount of information is relatively small, and the situational awareness factor would be very hard pressed to overcome.
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Woodreau
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Tue May 09, 2006 2:35 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 3):
It would also work for airline dispatchers. They could program the flight computer directly by digital transmission. Why should the pilots have to waste time re-entering flight data? It only needs to be entered once by the dispatcher.

I'm not disparaging dispatchers, they do a very good job... but you haven't had a bad dispatcher yet have you?  Smile

Reentering the flight data allows me to sanity check it before we hit execute.
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Mir
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Tue May 09, 2006 4:04 am

Quoting Woodreau (Reply 14):
Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 3):
It would also work for airline dispatchers. They could program the flight computer directly by digital transmission. Why should the pilots have to waste time re-entering flight data? It only needs to be entered once by the dispatcher.

I'm not disparaging dispatchers, they do a very good job... but you haven't had a bad dispatcher yet have you?

Reentering the flight data allows me to sanity check it before we hit execute.

Excellent point there. I saw a UA cockpit video in the 777 where they download their flight plan into the FMS via satellite, but they still check it against that long sheet of paper before they hit EXEC.

-Mir
7 billion, one nation, imagination...it's a beautiful day
 
peterpuck
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Tue May 09, 2006 6:37 am

What about guys like me flying around in the old 727. Or all the GA pilots out there. With so many aircraft not capable of this, voice will be around awhile.
 
N766UA
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Tue May 09, 2006 11:31 am

How could anything ever be easier than speaking directly?
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Bobster2
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Wed May 10, 2006 6:46 am

Quoting Mir (Reply 10):
How many accidents are due to a pilot not hearing ATC right?

It's not about safety. The system has big safety margins built in and pilots do go-arounds when the margin is cut too close.

It's more about efficiency, especially for approaches at busy airports where you need to maximize the number of landings. The current situation is stressful for controllers because they have to move planes along a precise flight path to get them down at exactly the right time. But the controllers are dependent on the pilots to hear the orders correctly and respond quickly. Every delay, even small ones, increases the risk of a go-around, or it risks the possibility of an empty runway with nobody landing which wastes a valuable resource.

Maybe it's not an ATC issue. Maybe the flight computers need to be smarter so they can guide the plane to the runway at the exact time that ATC wants them to be there.
"I tell you this, no eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn." Jim Morrison
 
dw747400
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Wed May 10, 2006 8:05 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 18):
How could anything ever be easier than speaking directly?

It would be nice to have your IFR clearence and other instructions stored and presented in front of you rather than having to write down most things. That said, I don't think it is nice enough to warrant the massive expenditure required to update the system.
CFI--Certfied Freakin Idiot
 
Mir
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Wed May 10, 2006 8:12 am

Quoting Bobster2 (Reply 18):
It's more about efficiency,

Unless we're going to get into telepathy, there's nothing more efficient than voice communications, both on the transmitting and recieving end.

-Mir
7 billion, one nation, imagination...it's a beautiful day
 
PurdueAv2003
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Wed May 10, 2006 10:43 am

Quoting Mir (Reply 20):
Unless we're going to get into telepathy, there's nothing more efficient than voice communications, both on the transmitting and recieving end.

-Mir

You read my mind! Big grin
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Smalbany
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Thu May 11, 2006 4:28 am

Quoting Corey07850 (Reply 1):
CPDLC is a system that has been around for a couple years, but hasn't really taken off by the airlines. ATC can send a digital command to an aircraft to do simple things like climb or descend

It is my understanding that my local airport ALB is using this system, or something like it, to send clearances to aircraft on the ground. I think that this is a good use of the digital data transmission. Full route clearances can be lengthy and usually it takes a couple of tries before the pilot reads it back correctly.

I would guess that such uses of digital transmissions will become more common as time goes on.

Dan

[Edited 2006-05-10 21:29:24]
 
jamotcx
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RE: Voice-based ATC: Obsolete?

Sun May 14, 2006 5:29 am

Quoting Dw747400 (Reply 19):
It would be nice to have your IFR clearence and other instructions stored and presented in front of you rather than having to write down most things. That said, I don't think it is nice enough to warrant the massive expenditure required to update the system.

Amen to that! I seem to get through a notepad every flight at the mo!

But I have to say I would still want to have all communication by text, but maybe suplement it with codes, frequencies etc etc being displayed on the CDU etc?


Jamo

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