• February 2, 2015
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Space...The Final Frontier for Speech?

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Some would argue that with smartphones, home automation, connected cars, and the Internet of Things, speech technologies are fairly ubiquitous on the planet. But speech technology might have found its newest frontier about 250 miles into the Earth's orbit.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a nonprofit organization managing research at the International Space Station, has awarded a grant to Juxtopia to develop augmented reality goggles for use by astronauts at the station to help them with their experiments. The goggles will be based on Juxtopia's open-source Context-Aware Mobile Mixed Assistive Device platform and will include proprietary speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies also developed by Juxtopia using open-source APIs.

Juxtopia will develop the hardware and software for the goggles, which will ultimately be used to provide voice instructions for astronauts as they perform daily tasks on the station. This could involve fixing a piece of equipment or conducting an experiment, according to Jayfus Doswell, president and CEO of Juxtopia.

In addition to delivering voice instructions, astronauts could use the speech technology to document tasks that have already been completed and dictate mission notes and other reports.

"Our goal is for the goggles to ultimately improve task completion so [the astronauts on the space station] can do more in very constrained amounts of time," Doswell says.

Baltimore-based Juxtopia is a biomedical and information technology company. It has been involved in the wearables technology market since 2002, almost a decade before Google Glass captured the world's attention, according to Doswell.

That long history in the field, Doswell says, is what prompted CASIS to give Juxtopia the grant over firms like Apple and Google. The grant, which is for an undisclosed amount, was awarded in late October with the expectation that the company would have a finished product developed, tested, and ready for deployment within 18 months. "We're really focused on the development right now," Doswell says.

Though astronauts from 15 countries have visited the station, the goggles that Juxtopia is developing will initially support English only, though other languages could be added later on.

The goggles will also only work inside the orbiting space station, but even there, issues of gravity, interference, and connectivity will be severe challenges, Doswell expects.

"The software and hardware has to be rugged enough to withstand use in space," he states. "The software is the easy part. The hardware will be the hard part."

The software, Doswell says, will likely use open-source programming and should be able to be uploaded, installed, and updated on the station's computer systems remotely from Earth via NASA's normal communications links to the station.

Doswell anticipates that once the goggles are in place, NASA will collect voice samples from astronauts going to the station so the system can be configured to recognize their voices once they arrive. Because of the highly specialized—and often top-secret—nature of some of the research conducted on the station, Juxtopia will also work to develop unique biometrics for the goggles.

And while the current project only involves technologies to be used on the space station, Doswell hopes it will lead to other NASA projects. He also plans to take the lessons learned in the "very demanding" space environment and apply them to technologies being used on Earth.

Juxtopia's goggles have already been used by the U.S. Army and by emergency organizations responding to natural disasters.

"Depending on what you want to do with them, we should be able to configure [the goggles] for whatever you need," he says.

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