Speech, Touch and Other Interfaces

This magazine has long touted speech technology as the most natural interface between people and machines, but we recognize that it is not the only one. As speech technology continues to improve, becoming faster and cheaper, our enthusiasm grows.

A trend which promises to fuel the speed with which users are exposed to speech is the combination with other interfaces, such as touchscreen and handwriting recognition. This trend offers many benefits to VARs too, who continue to seek ways to legitimately build margin into a product with a rapidly falling price.

One of the prime examples of speech working in conjunction with other systems is an alliance between EloTouch Systems and Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking.

Steve Abramovich, director of sales at ELO, noted that the two technologies "are both pretty intuitive, and work well together." In ELO’s Dragon application, users of NaturallySpeaking will, when the program misrecognizes a word, get an error screen that shows several options. Users who also have an ELO TouchSystem can choose the correct version by simply touching the screen.

Abramovich points out that "although the speech recognition systems are good, they are not 100%," and that with touch as an option, users eliminate the possibility of the system continuing to misrecognize their choice with speech.

Companies in a broad cross section of industries have used touch screens for a wide variety of applications. Airlines use them to simulate aircraft cockpits for training pilots. Realtors use them to put full-color images of homes for sale a fingertip away from home buyers. Greeting card companies use them to let customers create their own one-of-a-kind cards. Restaurants use them to simplify their point-of-sale terminals. Medical schools use them to teach student nurses how to respond to crisis situations.

Regardless of the industry or the application, touchscreens have advantages, some of which are not present with speech:

Touchscreens enable people to use computers without any training.
They almost completely eliminate operator errors because users select from defined menus.
Touchscreens are rugged and can stand up to harsh environments where peripherals would get damaged.
No space is wasted, as the input device is completely integrated into the monitor.
Language barriers can be eliminated with the use of picture graphics.
Who is buying touchscreens? One large group is original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who see the value of touch based applications in hospitals, restaurants, factories, gaming establishments, and public facilities such as malls and tourist centers. Issues such as available memory, background noise, and misrecognition rates do not matter with touchscreens.

Value-added resellers (VARs), along with systems integrators (SIs) such as IBM, DEC, Apple, and EDS also purchase touchscreens as part of the systems they design and install for their customers.

Large companies purchase touchscreens to use in house. Many financial institutions make use of touchscreens at the trading desk, and major retailers like Macy’s and J.C. Penny Co. have invested in touchscreens for various in store applications.

Surface Wave Technology

Touchscreens have been around for more than two decades. Typically, they come in one of two types: resistive technology, which is by far the most popular in the world today, and surface wave technology.

Resistive technology touchscreens are durable, versatile, and effective with any stylus, finger, or gloved hand. They are unaffected by deep scratches, dirt, dust, and water. However, they do have drawbacks. They can be damaged by sharp objects and only offer 75% image clarity.

In resistive technology, each touchscreen consists of a glass panel modeled to the precise shape of a display’s face. This underlying glass layer is coated with a transparent, conductive layer and then covered by a clear, hard-coated sheet of plastic. This cover sheet is suspended over the glass by tiny separator dots, each less than 1000th of an inch thick. When a user touches the screen, the conductive inner surface of the plastic sheet makes contact with the underlying glass.

Surface wave technology was first introduced in 1987 and marked an industry breakthrough because it was constructed solely of glass, with no need for plastic layers or conductive coating. With nothing but glass between the user and the image on the screen, surface wave touchscreens offer improved clarity and durability. They have quickly become a favorite among developers of highly graphical, public display systems such as those found in mall directories, video-gaming terminals, and computer-based training systems.

Surface wave technology screens consist of a clear glass overlap formed to match the shape of the display. Each axis on the overlay has a transmitting and receiving piezoelectric transducer and a set of reflector stripes. The touchscreen controller sends a five megahertz burst to the transmitting transducers which convert the signal into surface acoustic waves.

Surface acoustic waves are mechanical waves that propagate in the surface of materials such as glass. The reflector stripes divert the burst across the face of the overlay. When the screen is touched, a portion of the wave is absorbed. The resulting change in the received signal is analyzed by the controller and digitized in X and Y coordinates. A Z axis level is also determined by measuring how much signal was absorbed.


Speech, Touch Used in Home ATM Banking

Speech recognition and touch screen technologies entered the world of home banking recently when Home Financial Network, (HFN) the leading developer of private-branded Internet banking software for the mass market announced it would include the two technologies in its Home ATM software.

The advantages of combining speech recognition and touch screen technologies for Home ATM include allowing HFN’s bank partners to serve those consumers who find the keyboard and mouse too difficult or imposing.

By providing voice and touch screen navigation banks, HFN can serve the customers with the greatest need for home banking: the elderly and those with physical limitations.

"By using the human voice to replace all keyboard and mouse commands, millions of consumers who value the benefits of financial automation but have been unwilling or unable to achieve the benefits through conventional means, can now do so with great ease and little or no training," said Daniel M. Scheley, chairman and CEO of the Home Financial Network.

The application was made possible by recent advances in speech recognition, which have made the technology capable of interpreting the basic command structure of focused applications like Home ATM. When integrated in Home ATM Bill Pay, it will allow users to voice-select a payee and record the amount to be paid simply by speaking.

For more information, contact HFN at http://www.homeatm.com or call Tom Dietrich at 203 341-7403.

SpeechTek Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues