The key to efficient starship management, as Captains Picard, Kirk, and Janeway have demonstrated, is communication. With Romulans closing in fast and Klingons on the starboard bow, you can’t be mumbling orders from the captain’s chair — you need the kind of commanding presence to inspire blind devotion in your crew.
And now you’ll be able to hone those command skills in virtual reality. Star Trek Bridge Crew — the VR game that puts you in the slip-on space shoes of a Starfleet officer — already emphasizes vocal communication when you’re playing with real humans, but it will soon allow you to use your voice to issue orders to computer-controlled characters too.
The feature has been made possible using IBM’s VR Speech Sandbox. The software combines IBM Watson’s Speech to Text and Conversation services with the company’s Unity SDK, using the natural language processing capabilities of IBM’s Watson software to parse your barked commands, and allow AI-controlled characters to act on them. Players will be able to launch photon torpedoes, jump to warp speed, or lock S-foils in attack formation (maybe not that last one) by requesting that your crew members push the relevant blinking buttons on their own command consoles.
The feature will go live in beta form this summer, soon after the game’s release on May 30th, and will allow players to complete missions across VR platforms and with a mixture of human and AI teammates. That means you won’t need to wrangle a full complement of human crewmates before attempting the Kobiyashi Maru, and might also stop some of your more independent-minded friends from scuppering your chances of getting ahead in Starfleet. Robots are unlikely to question your orders, after all.
It’s not just in Starfleet that you’ll be able to teach virtual people how to understand your voice. IBM has made its VR Speech Sandbox software available to all VR developers, allowing for its inclusion in other games in the future. It’s not the first time that video games have made attempts to understand your voice commands — you could talk to Pikachu on N64 in 1998 — but the control method makes a lot of sense in a supposedly immersive virtual reality environment. How well it actually works in practice, we’ll see this summer, aboard our own starships.