Helicopter Pilot Program

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Arizona State University student Bryan Duarte has developed a program that helps helicopter pilots have 360-degree situational awareness through the use of three-dimensional audio. The software will help pilots have an awareness of their surroundings in situations where they cannot see, such as in clouds or in smoke. Duarte was spurred to develop the program after losing his eyesight in a motorcycle accident.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona technology and innovation concerns a vision impaired students who used his condition as the impetus to develop a software program that helps helicopter pilots become more aware of their surroundings while flying in clouds or smoke. ASU student Bryan Duarte developed the program after losing his eyesight in a motorcycle accident. Bryan joins us now to talk about his work. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bryan Duarte: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about this program for helicopter pilots. What exactly are we talking about?

Bryan Duarte: So what I did is I was asked to develop a threat awareness position system for Apache helicopter pilots, and what this would do would provide tones or sounds in a three-dimensional space around the helicopter when the helicopter pilot was not aware of what was around him. So threats.

Ted Simons: So basically a 3D audio, like in a 360-degree environment?

Bryan Duarte: Exactly. Three-dimensionally spacially. That's around, above, pretty much anywhere. So if you're up and there's a threat below you, you would hear it from down into your right. If it was above you, you'd hear it, in front of you, behind you.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing that would be similar to some of the fancy cars that beep when you get close to a curb? Is that somewhat similar?

Bryan Duarte: It actually is somewhat similar to that. It's basically I created a sis theme would provide different pitch tones starting from 100 hertz up to 1 K. And what that would do is as the threat was in front it would pulsate, if it was behind it would be a steady tone. If it was closer or farther away it would play a higher pitched tone. Things of that sort. So the pilot would never have to take his eyes off of what he was focused on, whether he was making a drop, picking up people, in the battle zone, do you not want them to take their eyes off what they're focused on. So using audio I was able to create a system that would allow them to stay focused on what they were on visually while being completely aware of where a threat was and how instant I was to them.

Ted Simons: What inspired you to develop this software and talk about using things like sound and touch in the development?

Bryan Duarte: Obviously with me losing my sight I knew what it was like to be visual, and I knew what I had lost visually. I then began looking into how can I reproduce these visual cues now that I'm blind? And I found through touch and through hearing blind people gather probably 90% of their awareness around them, situationally. When I went to Lockheed martin I was asked to do something with audio. And I said, well, that's great because I've already been look to audio for nothing but blindness. So mapping, gaming, things like that. And it just so happened that they were looking for a way to provide cues to sighted individuals without needing their sight.

Ted Simons: This was again Lockheed Martin, this was an internship? And you worked at the Florida location? Correct?

Bryan Duarte: I sure did, yes.

Ted Simons: How do you get from, I got an idea, to Lockheed Martin saying, go with it, to having a result?

Bryan Duarte: That's a good question. That's a tough question. I would say I applied to Lockheed, I got hired with Lockheed, it wasn't clear until I got there the task I was going to be doing. In fact I got passed around without me knowing it before I got there. So where I was supposed to be and where I went were two different places because of brand-new project open and they said this guy has the knowledge you need, you should talk to him and get him. And I got on to the project, my supervisor comes to me the first day I'm there and says, we need to you develop a system that provides three-dimensional sound to a helicopter pilot based on threat awareness. And I looked at him and said, yes, sir.

Ted Simons: When do you start?

Bryan Duarte: When do I start? And he walked away. So I had to break it down. Break down what was needed, what I had, what I knew, what I didn't know. Since it had never been done before, it took a lot. I had to break it down into smaller chunks so I could handle what was there. I couldn't just Google three-dimensional awareness. It hadn't been done before. So it was a task.

Ted Simons: We should mention you lost your sight in a motorcycle accident in 2004. Fully recovered now except for the eyesight.

Bryan Duarte: Yes.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, going back -- How did your goals change? How did you redirect yourself after such a life-changing event?

Bryan Duarte: Definitely. I can say when I was sighted, there was one career field, one thing I was interested in, mechanical engineering. I really enjoyed, it was -- And was good at board drafting, auto CAD, drawing pictures and working pictures, mechanical working pictures. When I became blind I didn't think there was much of a market for a blind artist, if you will, so I had to switch gears. I still wanted to be innovative, I still wanted to use my problem solving skills and stand apart in that area, and I found that software was the way to go. I developed software now, I do pertain to accessibility, I do pertain to blindness, I do like to use things like audio and things that are open to anybody to use. But gears did shift. I lost my sight when I was 18, 2004, from a motorcycle accident. And went from mechanical to software, but I am very innovative with what I do, and my hope to -- I hope to get better.

Ted Simons: This isn't the only thing you do. You founded an ASU club for disabled athletes.

Bryan Duarte: I sure did.

Ted Simons: And you're also involved in student government.

Bryan Duarte: Yes.

Ted Simons: Where do you see yourself going from here? That's a lot of balls juggled in the air for you and your guide dog.

Bryan Duarte: Yeah. I see what you're saying. It is tough. I got involved in student government, I was elected into being a senator last semester. I did start a student wide organization at ASU called disabled athletes and allies, and I have twice a week a group of blind individuals that go to the gym at the polytechnic campus and we play global, a sport for blind people. A lot of stuff. I think where I see myself going, I would like a career with Lockheed Martin. I want to graduate, I'll graduate from ASU with applied computer science degree. I do in my spare time like to develop software that makes life -- I call it augmented humanity. I like to augment humanity. I like to make what isn't there, there for people who have or do not have the necessary senses if you will.

Ted Simons: My goodness. I'm sure regardless of what you want to do, you will be a success at it. You've already accomplished quite a bit already. Congratulations on the success with this particular program. And good luck to you in the future. Thanks for joining us.

Bryan Duarte:Student, ASU;

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