Pilots may soon be able to more clearly distinguish the multitude of important aural signals, voices and sounds competing for their attention in the cockpit.

Pilots may soon be able to clearly distinguish important signals, voices and sounds when operating in the cockpit.

Researchers from the Human Effectiveness directorate Battlespace Acoustics Branch of the Human Effectiveness directorate, Air Force Research Lab, have recently made progress in maximizing sound clarity used in audio flight systems, according to a news release.

In a partnership with audio control systems developer PS Engineering, the AFRL researchers have created a digital audio system that mimics a 3-dimensional sound environment to boost certain listening cues.

Using PS Engineering's audio interface 'IntelliAudio,' the multi-talker technology can place two communication channels in various positions within the stereo headset, making simultaneous radio signals sound as if they are coming from different locations for a 3-D effect, according to PS Engineering founder and CEO, Mark Scheuer.

The key is to spatially separate sounds so pilots can better perceive what they're hearing.

Douglas Brungart, chief scientist for the National Military Audiology and Speech Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center , Bethesda, Maryland, and a former AFRL scientist paved the way for this discovery — while a student at MIT, Brungart tested the way listeners perceive sounds that are located near their head. The test showed that listeners could easily separate voices that were close to their head and far from their head, even when both talkers were located in the same direction from the listener, according to the release.

The discovery made it possible to develop a technology application that would spatially separate sound sources. PS Engineering adopted that technology into its PMA450 system for general aviation.

"We've been excited about this technology for a long time, but previous applications have been limited by the relatively expensive hardware required to implement it," Brungart said in the release. "However, as technology has advanced, the cost of implementing virtual audio has dropped dramatically."

The list price for a PMA450 system runs around $2,350, according to PS Engineering's website.

Now Battlespace Acoustics technical adviser Brian Simpson and his team of researchers believe they have found a key to maximizing audio clarity so that sounds they are perceived to be coming from different places.

"The improvement is tremendous," Battlespace Acoustics technical adviser Brian Simpson said in the release. "Even highly trained pilots, who are used to listening to multiple channels, can benefit from this technology, and the more complex the environment, the greater this benefit will be."

Aside from Air Force and commercial jet cockpits, the technology could potentially be used in air traffic control systems and remotely piloted vehicles.

"You can achieve greater communication effectiveness, reduce workload and, importantly, improve overall safety in flight operations," Simpson said.