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Your Personal Airbus A319 Co-Pilot “Linda”

Introduction

Usually when flying X-Plane models we may be assisted by autopilots and other automated systems and we may be able to view the cockpit with animated figures, representing the the pilot and co-pilot, clearly visible but ultimately we fly the aircraft alone, unless we let X-Plane AI take over. Many aircraft are not designed to be flown by one person and developers have come up with some ingenious ways of allowing us to swap seats or take the co-pilots view.

JARDesign have approached this issue by modelling a co-pilot who sits in the cockpit with you, interacts with the user and carries out some of the functions and procedures. The Co-Pilot plug in is designed to:
– Provide an animated 3d CoPilot model
– Recognise and execute User voice commands
– Speak
– Read checklists
– React to events and commands (flight parameters detection)
– Execute all FCOM-based normal procedures

The developers have designed Co-Pilot plug ins for several aircraft and the one I reviewed is compatible with the ToLiss A319. It should be noted that for the Co-Pilot to work the user has to have downloaded the appropriate aircraft.

Installation and Documentation

As mentioned above the user does have to have downloaded and installed the particular aircraft the plug in is intended for. Download speeds vary with the connection but the co-pilot is not a large folder and the process did not take long. The folder appeared in my downloads entitled OpenAndReadMe.

This contains four items: a text document of the license agreement, two folders entitled copilot_main and copilot_speech and a PDF manual. This manual has installation instructions so the OpenAndReadMe title to the folder is entirely appropriate. In addition to leading the user through the installation process there is also guidance on how to set up voice control on a windows or Mac computer.

The co-pilot can also be controlled by clicking on screen prompts and so can be used without voice commands if preferred. In order to install the co-pilot the copilot_main and copilot_speech folders should be copied in to the plug-ins folder for the aircraft itself. When the aircraft is loaded a pop up box appears showing the co-pilot is ready for set up. The user presses the set up button and reloads the aircraft.

The co-pilot menu appears in the top left of the screen with the name of your aircraft appearing between the Flight and View options. Clicking on this produces a drop down menu similar to that for the File or Flight. Options include voice settings, an uninstall option and registration selection which initiates the process of entering the registration code supplied. The manual then explains how to set up the computer to run the plug in.

This is not difficult and the instructions are easy to follow. If using voice command the manual gives instructions on how to set up a button on the joystick to facilitate this. The plug in menu for co-pilot includes a selection of voices that can be used and does include male voices. The plug in for the ToLiss A319 only contains a female co-pilot.

Commands and speech are script based and can be edited and customised. This is done by opening the copilot_main folder, then systems folder and this gives access to txt. files that can be edited. I must say some knowledge is required to edit several of these files but the commands txt can be changed to give commands and responses to suit the user.

The commands then need to be linked to appropriate actions. Suffice to say I maintained my trust in those commands and procedures created by the developers and did not edit anything but the option is there for those who wish to do so.

Co-Pilot Model

The co-pilot can be seen through the cockpit windows when approaching the aircraft and once in the pilots seat turning towards the model causes the co-pilot to introduce herself as Linda.

The co-pilot is a blonde female in an airline uniform wearing sunglasses and headphones. The attention to detail is clear as the glasses are tinted when viewed from the front but are transparent when seen from behind the figure. When viewed with no interaction the model blinks and moves independently. The modelling is of high quality and movements are smooth and natural. The model interacts with the cockpit in a convincing manner and light and shadow in the aircraft work well with the figure.

The commands menu includes conversation between the user and the co-pilot outside of formal exchanges such as asking their name and ‘how are you?” These interactions cause the figure to turn towards the pilot and engage in conversation. This interaction appears realistic and takes the model beyond a figure that simply completes lists of actions. The figure is modelled down to individual fingers and so the hands move correctly for the particular action being carried out.

The plug in allows for the co-pilot to carry out or be involved in different procedures, commands and checklists. The figure interacts with the pilot and moves and operates switches and instruments in the correct places and in the appropriate way. Realism is maintained to a high level whatever action is being carried out. Linda certainly finds the controls and instrumentation quicker than I could!

When carrying out a checklist the co-pilot reads from a visible check list in her hand.

In flight the co-pilot remains visible when viewed from outside of the aircraft.

Linda’s Voice

As mentioned earlier the manual explains how to set up voice control and voices on the Mac and Windows PC. I will not go through those instructions as it depends which machine is being used and it will simply mean repeating the manual. Whilst I attempted to change the voice of the co-pilot on my computer settings it is actually changed through the co-pilot menu at the top left of the screen.

This menu allows the user to select one of several voices and accents and whilst not relevant to this plug in, which only has a female co-pilot, it is possible to use male voices also, as mentioned before. The menu also allows the user to alter voice volume, speech rate and reset the speech engine.

The plugin use speech recognition and simulation engine of user operation system macOS / Windows and speech quality
depend of installed voices.

Once set up the speech of the figure is clear and precise and the lip movement of the model makes the interaction more interesting. Speech is not interrupted by any other actions in the aircraft itself. There are breaks in speech through things such as checklist items. This can be a little disconcerting at first as it seems the plug in may have stopped but it does add realism in that the figure is not simply “reading” the checklist as a basic list.

Overall the sound compliments the modelling of the figure and integrates well with all else that is happening during the use of the aircraft.

Interaction with You

The interaction between pilot and co-pilot can be carried out either through an on screen menu or with voice command. This is supported by a “widget” which appears on screen with a text record of the last few parts of the conversation and indeed expected replies to the co-pilot. If using voice command the set up process commits a button on the joystick as the speech button and the user presses this to allow voice input. I found the voice command system easy to use and the co-pilot reacts well to all required phrases.

Learning the commands and options will take a little time and I resorted to the pause button on several occasions to check the command and speech options. The widget helps as a prompt as it lists all relevant commands, procedures and checklists on screen. The widget can be moved around the screen and positioned to suit the user. If the widget is placed over instruments or controls there is a risk that clicking on it will initiate some action from that equipment so it is worth thinking carefully about its position.

The widget can either be used as a voice prompt or can be clicked on the chosen line or text and the co-pilot will respond accordingly. I found myself using a mixture of the two methods as I learned what the co-pilot could do. It is possible to allocate a button to toggle the widget on and off so it disappears from the screen but I found it too useful to hide it!

The other method of inputting commands and conversation with the co-pilot is via the plug in at the top left of the screen under the aircraft name.

As well as giving the sound options this menu also lists commands. Clicking on the commands option then allows access to subsections listing further interactions. The Misc option has various pieces of conversation between pilot and copilot outside of the aircraft related comments as can seen in the above screenshot.

As with the widget the lists can be used as voice prompts or used by clicking the text. The co-pilot then follows the instructions or comments in the conversation. I found this option useful in that it lists all of the different inputs and helps the user to learn the whole system. This method worked quickly and smoothly and the co-pilot responded very well.

Having issued commands or initiated procedures or checklists how does the co-pilot respond? I found that the reaction of the co-pilot really adds to the realism created. This does not happen by way of a robotic listed response. As well as reacting to pilot input the co-pilot adds her own interventions and, as mentioned before, waits appropriately for actions to take place such as when a piece of equipment is self testing.

I experienced several unsolicited responses from the co-pilot whilst using the aircraft, and all of them were polite! Examples of this included stating that ground power needed to be disconnected during engine start and then, when I agreed, having a conversation with the ground crew to cause this to happen.

When I instructed that a procedure should take place the co-pilot reminded me that a checklist needed to be completed first. I must say at this point that I could not find a checklist or set of procedures in the aircraft manual or model manual that matched exactly what the co-pilot went through in her procedures and checklists, although all the actions she did do were included and explained in the manuals.

It may be helpful for the procedures and checklists the co-pilot carries out to be listed in the co-pilot handbook, although this is not essential and can soon be picked up by the user. The co-pilot also makes supportive comments such as confirming a positive climb during take off and advising that the aircraft has reached transition altitude.

I also found that the co-pilot should not be seen as a means of avoiding the pilot having to learn procedures and processes for the aircraft being flown. When going through the checklists the co-pilot asks if a particular action has been carried out. The pilot then answers and where the action is not complete the co-pilot aborts the checklist until it is done.

This is also where a written copy of the lists the co-pilot will follow would be useful. The pilot can stop a procedure or checklist at any time by using the abort command. This means the pilot still has to ensure proper procedures are carried out for the checklists to be completed. I discovered this when I had not fully prepared the FMS and the co-pilot would go no further until I had done so.

After all what is a check list for?
If necessary a checklist can be missed out, the co-pilot will ask if it is required but the pilot can move things on if they want to. This whole process adds realism to the use of the aircraft, it allows procedures to be carried out smoothly and efficiently but still holds the pilot accountable for the safety and operation of the aircraft.

Linda analyzes a lot of flight and systems parameters getting them from native and custom datarefs and from states of cockpit buttons, handles and switches. In order to use complex logic and analysis, it is necessary to use a semblance of a programming language. In this case, Visual Avionics (by JARDesign) system was used in which the result is saved as a script, but development itself takes place directly on the screen during flight.

Summary

I must admit when Angelique first asked me to review the co-pilot I was both intrigued and also concerned that the figure would be contrived and rather than adding value would simply complicate the use of the aircraft model. I was right to be intrigued but unfounded in my concerns.

The modelling of the co-pilot figure is done to a high standard and compliments everything else going on in the cockpit. Movements are realistic and appear natural even when moving to operate controls and instruments. The manual makes installation straight forward and interaction becomes easier the more the plug in is used. This plugin has a demo mode what allows you to use it on the ground without activation.

The lists of commands, comments, procedures and checklists is extensive, and appropriate input phrases will take a while to learn, but the widget and drop down menu provided ease this process. In addition the co-pilot takes nothing away from the users experience of the aircraft model and the challenges of flying still remain. The co-pilot adds another dimension to a flight and actually helps the user learn the aircraft being flown.

Clearly the co-pilot is not essential to the enjoyment of the aircraft model but it certainly adds value and realism to augment the flying experience.

A very welcome and helpful plug in.

More general information of the JARDesign Co-Pilot plugin can be found at the dedicated JARDesign Co-Pilot web page and at the dedicated X-Plane.Org Co-Pilot ToLiss A319 store page.

As of this writing, the Co-Pilot JARDesign plugin for the ToLiss A319 aircraft cost you only 14.95 USD.

Feel free to contact me if you’ve got additional questions related to this impression. You can reach me via email;Angelique.van.Campen@gmail.com or to Angelique@X-Plained.com.

With Greetings,
Andy Clarke

 

 

Add-on: Freeware / Payware JARDesign Co-Pilot Linda for ToLiss A319
Publisher | Developer: X-Plane.Org | JARDesign
Description: Realistic rendition of a co-pilot for the ToLiss A319
Software Source / Size: Download / Approximately 36MB (unzipped)
Reviewed by: Andy Clarke
Published: July 14th 2020
Hardware specifications: - iMac Intel i5 27"
- 3.5 GHz Intel Core i5
- AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2048 MB
- 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM
- Logitech Force 3D Pro
Software specifications: - macOS Catalina 10.15.x
- X-Plane 11.41r1 (64 Bit) Private Use
- A variety of freeware and payware airports

2 Comments

  1. dbrooke

    Unfortunately she is deaf as a post, and so are Jar Design. I shall continue using MCE and learn a lesson here.

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