IBM Demonstrates Voice Recognition on Palm PDAs

PALM DESERT, CALIF. (03/07/2000) - As mobility moves the market for processing cycles off the desktop and into the palm, IBM Corp. today took a major step in offering a useable interface for devices with limited keyboards. The company announced an embedded version of its ViaVoice speech engine for handhelds and other nontraditional form factors.

At the Mobile Insights 2000 conference here, Big Blue demonstrated its speech recognition and text-to-speech technology on a Palm III personal digital assistant. The Personal Speech Assistant (PSA) prototype shown on stage was attached to the back of a Palm III, similar to other Palm III add-ons. Inside the PSA unit was the Embedded ViaVoice software, optimized for both the Palm OS and an NEC embedded processor.

In the demonstration, billed as only a technology demo, IBM official David Barnes made numerous voice-command and control calls to the unit which responded by verifying appointments, taking short messages, and translating selected words into Spanish and Japanese.

Barnes reiterated that IBM is not interested in making the hardware but that its speech division will license the embedded speech SDK (software development kit) to developers working on almost any platform.

The SDK includes recognition for 500 words, enough for most command and control functions, as well as unlimited text-to-speech capability for reading emails.

As part of the unit, flash memory was used to store longer voice episodes, which according to Barnes could then be hot-synced via the Palm cradle to a desktop that included a full version of ViaVoice. The desktop version would convert the voice WAV files to text and automatically send it back to the Palm.

The Embedded ViaVoice for Multiplatforms SDK, now in beta, will ship by the end of the second quarter, according to Patricia McHugh, director of New Business Development for IBM Voice Systems, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

IBM would not say with which OEMs the company is working to create products, but the company was willing to say that a number of PDA as well as car manufacturers were interested.

At the end of the demonstration, the audience was invited to a tent behind the auditorium where a car was equipped with the in-car prototype of the embedded SDK.

IBM Voice Systems division, in West Palm Beach, Fla., is at http://www.software.ibm.com/speech.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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