Thursday, June 28, 2007

Musings on voice activation

For reasons that I won't get into right now (succinct), T. J. Simers was on KLAC this morning, requesting assistance in finding a handball court in the Yorba Linda area. I heard his request while I was driving south on the 57, and during the commercial break, I was musing about how to fill his request. "Hmm," I mused, "let's search in Google Maps, check out some school district web sites, and go from there." I had advanced a couple of miles by the end of the commercial break, and someone had already e-mailed Roggin & Simers Squared, telling them that there was an elementary school at Melrose and Orangethorpe in Placentia (Melrose Elementary School) that had a handball court.

Technically, I could have used my Motorola Q to answer T.J.'s question, using at least three easily available tools:

  • Start the Google Maps application, center the map on the Nixon Library, and search for "handball."

  • Send a text to 4info with "handball 92886."

  • Start the web browser, go to my Google bookmark, enter a location of 92886, and search for "handball."

Only one small problem - I was driving at the time, and although I've engaged in dangerous activities before, even I wouldn't perform web searches at 30 miles an hour.

Of course, all of these activities could have been achieved by speech recognition, had the applications been tailored to support it. Tele Atlas has a relevant patent:

A system is disclosed for using speech recognition with map data. For example, a user could state a location. The system will recognize the words spoken and find the location on a map using an electronic map database. The map can be displayed such that the location is depicted. Alternatively, the user could state two locations. The system will recognize the words spoken, find both locations on the map using an electronic map database, determine a path between the locations and report that path to the user.

And here's what they are telling the public:

Clear vocal instructions play a critical role in helping to ensure accurate and safe navigation for drivers and ease of use for consumers of mobile devices and location-based services. At the same time, digital map applications must be able to accurately recognize user requests for directions or locations, while taking a broad range of linguistic factors into account – from local accents to individual speakers’ inflections. Tele Atlas’ phonemes products, the most comprehensive and precise on the market, ensure the recognition of virtually all variants in end-user pronunciation, and deliver the clearest, most useful vocal instruction available.

They've accounted for something that I didn't think about. T. J. Simers isn't the only person looking for a handball court. You also have Borat, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Stephen Hawking.


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