Toshiba unveils first Bluetooth headset

Toshiba unveiled Tuesday a headset/microphone combination which contains an embedded Bluetooth chip, enabling the user to send voice commands wirelessly to PCs, home appliances and audio devices. The new product will be sold commercially later this year Toshiba said.

The headset is equipped with a voice-recognition engine, which converts what a user says into commands. These are then sent to electronic devices such as PCs and home appliances over a Bluetooth network using low-power radio signals to allow wireless communication between electronic devices at short distances.

At one of the demonstrations, a person wearing the headset said "work" into the headset microphone, causing a Bluetooth-enabled air-conditioner to turn on. When he said "strong wind", the air-conditioner started providing strong wind and so forth. Because the headset itself converts voice into commands, it can directly send data to the device.

"There has been a Bluetooth-embedded cell phone that enables to transfer voice before, but this is the world's first headset which sends digitized data," said Yoichi Takebayashi, director of Toshiba's R&D center.

Other demonstrations included a dictation function so that words spoken into the microphone were automatically typed on a PC. The keyword spoken to the microphone was sent to a database server, which found the information requested and sent it back to the designated device's browser. An audio replay function enabled music stored on PC to be played back on the headset at high quality.

Toshiba, one of the nine founding companies behind Bluetooth, considers it as a technology for the personal end of the networking spectrum, Takebayashi said.

"The expectation towards the spread of Bluetooth was high at the beginning but it has slowed down a little at the moment," he said, emphasizing that not only the device makers but the software developers' cooperation is essential to promote the technology.

The company hopes to develop Bluetooth-embedded products in various fields, Takebayashi said. As a start, Toshiba is trying to load Bluetooth modules on all of its PCs as standard and then on home appliances and mobile devices, and eventually to others such as automobiles, he said.

The headset, the company expects, will be a trigger for such new markets. At this point, the company expects demand from medical practitioners, who would use the dictation function, which allows them to record medical symptoms in a written format, and from consumers who like to listen to music wirelessly.

For commercialization, further developments are needed on the headset's battery life and weight, Takebayashi said. So far, the company has achieved its goal of reducing the weight to under 100 grams. But the company hopes to extend battery life to at least five hours compared with the current life of under one hour, he said.

Toshiba hopes to put the product on sale in time for this year's holiday season at a price under 10,000 yen (US$76), and to cut that price by half at a later date, Takebayashi said.

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