IBM Puts Voice on Palm

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 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 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 e-mail messages.

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 them 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.

IBM would not say which hardware vendors may create products, but a number of PDA as well as car manufacturers are interested.

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Ephraim Schwartz

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