Sensory's New Speech Technologies for Interactive Kiosk Avatars Make Shopping Easy
ORLANDO, FL Sensory Inc., a provider of embedded speech technology, announced a new suite of technologies that combine to make retail kiosks act as service agents for customers in stores. The technologies in this new suite include speech recognition and synthesis, facial animation, and lip-synching. "The issue is that retail chains are introducing bigger and bigger stores, and prices are going down, but consumers can't find what they want - and with the decreasing retail prices, retailers can't afford enough personnel to provide optimal service," said Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory. "Voice-enabled kiosks that can 'hear' and 'talk' offer the alternative of a helpful, virtual customer service agent for a wide range of retail stores." With Sensory's speech recognition and speech synthesis technologies, kiosks can be designed to interact with customers to help people find what they need in a store. A motion sensor triggers the kiosk to ask a customer, "What can I help you find?" and triggers a dialog. For example, the customer might reply: "I'm looking for wheat bread." The kiosk would respond: "Wheat bread can be found in aisle 11; that's just 3 aisles straight ahead. Today we have a special on Wheatio brand bread, should I print a coupon for you?" The new Sensory technology not only performs speech recognition and synthesis, but can also allow the kiosk screen to display an animated character or store mascot to do the speaking. Stores can build upon their existing brand equity by creating 3-D virtual agents that represent the store (e.g., Geoffrey the Giraffe for Toys 'R' Us). The animated speech technology allows customers to either type a message or speaks into a microphone; the character will automatically reply, speaking in a very realistic and natural way. "Our customers have been turning to us because we make it easy for them to make their consumer electronics products talk and hear," said Mozer. "After a very frustrating experience at a large local retail store, it occurred to me that Sensory's technology could really make shopping easier too, and that we could improve a store's customer service without increasing its labor costs." Kiosk makers can create spoken dialogues and animated accompaniment using the Sensory technology by simply making a recording into a microphone. Similarly, they can map out a response flowchart with speech recognition words entered by typing in text or linking to an existing database of stock and location information. This way, when the store's databases (showing quantity, brand, location, etc.) are updated, the kiosk service agent dialogue is automatically updated, as well, to ensure that customers receive accurate and up-to-date information. Sensory is currently seeking partners in the retail or kiosk industries to act as alpha test sites or partners for these technology solutions. Sensory expects final release of kiosks with Sensory technology into stores in 2003 and expects to charge a monthly service fee for usage of the interactive kiosks. Information for this story was gathered from Sensory, Inc.