Space Flights Bring Speech Technology Home

Members of the IEEE, a global professional organization for technological advances in aerospace systems, computers, telecommunications, biomedical engineering, and consumer electronics, have found that advances in voice activation, wireless power, and remote sensing for space travel and exploration will play an increasingly significant role in the advancement of consumer electronics products used by the average human being here on Earth.  

Among some of the space technologies that have found their way into the consumer market are cordless tools and appliances, smoke detectors, quartz timing crystals used in watches, tempur foam, and GPS, according to Edward Tunsteel, an IEEE fellow and senior roboticist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

"The technological advances made by space travel and exploration will continue to have a dynamic influence on the design of new consumer products," he said in a statement.

In the space program, voice controls are helping to address cost and weight issues, and the same technologies will greatly benefit the consumer electronics industry, according to IEEE fellow Norm Augustine, chairman of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

"The advanced voice control being developed for space will have an enormous impact on how other consumer electronics, like mobile devices, will be developed. Systems will finally become user-friendly, and size for a control device will no longer be a factor," he said in a statement.

Roberto Pieraccini, CEO of the International Computer Science Institute and a fellow at the IEEE, agrees. "When we are talking about command and control, with low-cost embedded speech technologies in consumer electronics, we're already seeing that with Siri on the iPhone," he says. "I can think of many other simple applications. The technology is ready."

Among them, Pieraccini sees light switches and TVs as the most likely uses right now.

But, he warns, the industry might need to address recognition issues a bit more before taking the technologies mainstream throughout the house. "The industry has not yet solved the general speech recognition problem," Pieraccini adds. "We do not have a technology yet that works as well as humans."

Still, Pieraccini shares his IEEE colleagues' enthusiasm. "We can do very real-world, low-cost apps for hands-free operation of many things right now, even though the big problem has not been solved yet," he says.

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