Industry Support / By Mr. Adithya M. R. Padala: UmeVoice has been solving mission critical problems from Wall Street to Fortune 500 companies to the military for over two decades. UmeVoice first created specialized voice recognition software for the top Wall Street Traders. UmeVoice gave Goldman Sachs traders the unique ability to rapidly speak phrases such as “Buy 10,000 GE at 32 and a sixteenth.” UmeVoice was delivering effective voice recognition to Wall Street before equities were traded in decimals!
Aircrews on HH-60G PaveHawk helicopters from 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, FL are outfitted with the UmeCobra mic./ U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY MAJOR CATHLEEN SNOW
When one Wall Street firm buys specialized million dollar software that gives it a competitive advantage, others follow quickly. One customer asked UmeVoice whether the technology would work on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Being entrepreneurs and engineers from the San Francisco Bay area close to Silicon valley, we were used to saying “Of course we can do it” to our clients.
The New York Stock Exchange is indeed a unique place. The noise can switch from being relatively quiet to 100 decibels almost instantly. Babble noise (people’s voices) is very challenging for speech recognition systems. When our chief engineer at the time, Steve Wolff, walked the floor of the NYSE with his large decibel meter, his accompanying host spooked many of the traders by explaining that his device was predicting how stocks moved!
Humans are excellent at using context to figure things out when one’s speech is interspersed with background noise. Speech recognition systems are terrible at doing this.
After testing every product available on the market, one of UmeVoice’s engineers came up with a unique approach to eliminating extraneous background noise. A few years later the UmeVoice engineering team miniaturized this solution without losing performance. Subsequently, we hired an industrial design firm (the same team that Steve Jobs hired to design the first Mac) to design a consumer headset called theBoom®. In parallel, we used the same technology to create a solution for the military called the UmeCobra.
The UmeCobra (Fig. 1) is a unique acoustically based microphone that makes sure the user is heard in the noisiest of environments. UmeVoice’s intellectual property is a portfolio of trade secrets and patents on manufacturing methods and acoustics. This approach ensures that the user’s voice is not tinny or garbled.
A common approach to noise canceling is measuring the external noise and creating an inverse wave to overcome the noise. That approach, while sufficient in some cases, is often fraught with difficulties especially when the noise changes suddenly. Sudden squeals or worse can occur. Since our technology was designed first for the NYSE where the noise is not predictable, our approach filters most of the noise at the source before it gets into the system.
This unique approach also enables our technology to be truly plug and play since the UmeCobra dynamic microphones have no electronics to interfere with avionic systems. As a user, it is best experienced to understand the dramatic difference. Hearing is believing. Wherever there is significant noise, the UmeCobra microphone can make a significant difference in the clarity of communication. The user can be right next to 100db+ noise and speak in a normal voice and be heard clearly by the other party. Intelligibility tests have proven that the louder the noise the greater the difference in clarity between the UmeCobra mic and the standard M87 microphone. (Fig. 2)
Initial Adoption in the Military
The UmeCobra mic was first adopted by the Air Force for flightline use. A quick 30-second retrofit on the David Clark headsets with the UmeCobra mic proved to the 58th Maintenance Group Commander at Kirtland (Colonel Debra Shattuck at the time) that this technology made a significant improvement to communications and the word spread.
Clearer communications in Search & Rescue
The pilots were the next to find out about the UmeCobra. One of the early adopters of the UmeCobra mic was Patrick Air Force Base’s 920th Rescue Wing. Colonel Robert Haston had this to say recently about his and his squadron’s experience with the mic in their HH-60G PaveHawk helicopters: “The first rule of risk management is to accept no unnecessary risk. Our unit alone has 50,000 crew hours with no noticeable failures and we know the UmeCobra provides clearer communications.”
From the Air Force to the Army
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment always gets to try new stuff first and when the Air Force has something they’re using effectively the 160th finds out. The 160th first adopted the UmeCobra in what is arguably the noisiest of all airframes, the Chinook. We’ve had many testimonials from the 160th, some of which can’t be reported here because of the confidential nature of what they do. However, here’s what one 160th CH-47 pilot had to say: “Even with the doors open, the noise of the rotor is not a problem. I’ve only had to replace one UmeCobra in the last nine years I’ve been using it.”
The most compelling testimonial was made by a flight medic who told us that within the first hour of their squadron switching to the UmeCobra mics in Afghanistan, they were called out on a rescue mission. With the doors open on a Chinook, he needed to tell the pilot to stop; but, historically the pilot often didn’t hear him. This time he heard him immediately, the first time. If the pilot hadn’t stopped right then, he would have lost his patient. Clearly, effective communication at critical times saves lives.
Stops Involuntary Triggering of VOX
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) George Grove of the Army National Guard had this to say: “VOX systems are great in helicopters and aviation in general when they work effectively. However, in noisy situations, the VOX being involuntarily triggered is not only a nuisance but can impact safety and productivity. I’ve flown with the UmeCobra and love the clarity. The crew listening to my transmissions in the UH-72A Lakota say that it completely eliminates the false VOX triggers and captures every word I say. This mic is truly plug and play. It was easy to remove the standard Army issued mic and replace with the UmeCobra by tightening the two set screws and plugging in the cord. Tremendous benefit for an all-around great mic!”
Big Army generally gets what the 160th first tries out, sometimes soon, sometimes much later. A few years ago the UmeCobra microphones were assigned national stock numbers (NSNs) allowing the Army to purchase UmeCobra microphones by the 1,000s. The UmeCobra mic is now being used globally across all Army airframes.
The same technology as the UmeCobra is incorporated in theBoom® (Fig. 3), a consumer product that can connect to a PC, cell phone or desk phone and work effectively in extremely noisy environments. Audio demonstrations can be heard at www.theBoom.com.
Mr. Adithya M.R. Padala is the president and chief executive officer of UmeVoice Inc. headquartered in Sonoma, CA.