Speech Technology Magazine

 

The For-Real Story

Although September 11th focused attention on biometrics, people still ask me whether speaker authentication is "for real." I decided that one of the best ways to answer that question was to provide a sample of the variety of ways speaker authentication is being used in real, everyday operations.
By Judith Markowitz - Posted Nov 21, 2002
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Although September 11th focused attention on biometrics, people still ask me whether speaker authentication is "for real." I decided that one of the best ways to answer that question was to provide a sample of the variety of ways speaker authentication is being used in real, everyday operations. All of these applications have or will be profiled in issues of Voice ID Quarterly. Automated Voice Railcar Release
In April 2001, the Union Pacific Railroad added a speaker-verification option to its automated railcar-release system. With more than 300,000 railcars moving at any one time, Union Pacific is one of the largest railroads in North America. When a railcar reaches its destination and is unloaded the customer contacts Union Pacific to pick it up and return it to service. "In our business we either move loaded rail equipment or empty rail equipment across the United States," explains Charlie Duckworth, senior director of e-commerce. Customers select the “automated voice release” option on the railroad’s IVR system to enroll or verify before proceeding to the voice-release system. Callers whose voices don’t match the enrolled voiceprint are transferred to an agent. “We’re not concerned about malicious activities,” explains Duckworth, “but we want to make sure that they are releasing the right railcar.” By March 2002 the number of enrolled customers grew to 910 who released around 6500 railcars. "Customers like the system,” says Duckworth, “because you get on, release the cars, and you are off right away.” As for Duckworth and his team “We like it because it takes my people out of the middle." Union Pacific is working on other speaker-verification applications. Union Pacific uses SpeechSecure speaker authentication from SpeechWorks. Residential Access Security
When the York Town Manor opened its doors in January 2002 those doors were secured with speaker authentication. The Manor is a residential complex in Bucks County, PA that provides 21st century luxury retirement-living for seniors. "I wanted to design a community that was technologically advanced for seniors," explains Jeff Randol, partner in the Manor, "so the idea of using speaker authentication was part of the design." It secures the Manor’s perimeter doors, apartment doors, and the door of the 24-hour onsite general store. The technology is text independent which eliminates the need for codes or passwords. To enter a perimeter door a resident inserts an ID card into a slot, presses a button, and talks for 1 ½ seconds saying anything they want, including, “This is Mary Smith. I'd like to get into my apartment.” A far-field array microphone above the door captures the voice of the person standing by the card reader. ID cards are not needed for entry to their apartments, but speaker authentication is. According to Mary McCaw, a Manor resident, "Most importantly I know that I will feel secure but independent, safe but not confined." The Manor uses VoicePass speaker authentication from Graphco Technologies and array microphones from Emkay/Knowles. Secure Login
Mitel Networks of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada is a global supplier of advanced telephony systems and services. In 1999, when Mitel decided to move forward with speech technology for voice-activated dialing, unified messaging, and other applications they knew speaker verification had to be included. “When you give users access to a dialer you have to have security and when you’re talking about unified messaging you’re talking about highly-sensitive data which is in e-mail,” explains Steve Duncan, Mitel’s Director of Messaging and Speech Recognition. Employees enroll and verify with their 10-digit, log-in code. If, after three attempts, a caller’s voice doesn’t match the voiceprint for that code they are transferred to a human agent. Duncan warns, “If you hang up and then try another couple of times the system will automatically lock the account.” Mitel reports its customers are pleased with the level of security that they are getting, and that Mitel uses speaker verification to differentiate its speech offerings from competitors. Duncan adds, “I want to speech-enable everything from Mitel, and whenever there is a need for security we’ll do it with speaker verification.” Mitel Networks uses Verifier speaker authentication from Nuance Communications. Securing Privacy
In 1999, Girl Tech, a developer of technology-based toys for girls (now a division of Radica), introduced the Password Journal, a colorful box that uses embedded speaker verification to keep private information safe from intruders. Anyone, including younger sisters and brothers, attempting to open the box must say the password in the right voice or the system will sound an alarm. Password Journal also keeps count of the number of intruders it foiled. In 2001, NPD Group, a company that measures product sales and consumer behavior, rated Password Journal 2 one of the top ten products in the Youth Electronics market. This year, Radica expanded the Password product line by introducing Password Room Control, which uses speech recognition to enable girls to turn electric appliances in their bedrooms on or off by issuing commands. Radica uses chip-based speaker-verification from Sensory Inc.
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