The next decade could see a huge shift in the way armed drones and their human controllers interact, with potentially profound effects on future battlefields. At the heart of this change: two-way voice controls for autonomous systems, just like your iPhone’s Siri app. Also, vibrating controls like an Xbox controller. A drone operator could literally talk to a drone — and the drone could talk right back, and also alert its human operator with a sensation similar to touch.
Today, human drone operators rely on clunky interfaces comprised of computer screens, keyboards and joysticks to steer their robot charges, which might be thousands of miles away from the virtual cockpits. The operator’s input is limited to keystrokes and mouse and joystick movements transmitted via satellite. The drone responds solely with streams of data or visual images sent from its onboard cameras. “It’s a desktop-type environment similar to an office,” explains Mike Patzek, a senior engineer working for the Air Force Research Laboratories in Ohio.