Clemson Researchers Deliver Hands-Free, Speech-Enabled Messaging

Professor Juan Gilbert and a team of researchers at Clemson University developed a hands-free solution that allows drivers to send messages—all via the power of their voice—while driving.

The application, VoiceTEXT, enables drivers to simply switch cell phones into Bluetooth mode, connect to cars, and speak messages. With VoiceTEXT, drivers are able to issue simple voice commands to record, deliver, listen to, and reply to voice messages. Additionally, the solution—built on the Voxeo platform—allows users to receive an accompanying text message and email with each voice message. Users can even choose to receive transcriptions of messages.

Gilbert—chairman of the human-centered computing division of Clemson’s School of Computing—says the system can be tailored to the needs of the user and his location: in the car, in a meeting, etc.

“You can set your settings [based] on how you want to receive information—either auditory or visual—and then react accordingly,” Gilbert says.

According to Gilbert, VoiceTEXT is different from other solutions on the market. With his offering, a user can record a voice message and instruct the system to call the recipient; the recipient is then able to answer the call, hear the message, and reply without ever touching the phone.

“The unique thing is we’re using the phone line versus the SMS,” he says. “It actually calls the recipient.”

Gilbert says the impetus for VoiceTEXT was increasing awareness about the dangers of texting while driving. He says that while people are learning about the dangerous of texting while driving, the practice persists and is usually discovered only after an accident.

Gilbert suggests the issue is one of enforcement. He notes that 19 states have passed legislation banning texting while driving, but a problem remains: how to execute the law. With VoiceTEXT, drivers will have another, safer option.

“For us the safety is it keeps your eyes on the road, your hands on the steering wheel,” he says, noting that studies show that even talking while driving can be distracting. “We believe this technology will be less distracting than carrying on a conversation because you're actually just sending a short message rather than conversing.”

And while, VoiceTEXT may make driving safer, not everyone is convinced it will make it safe enough. 

In an email to Speech Technology, Jim Larson—a speech application consultant, co-chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Voice Browser Working Group, and program chair of SpeechTEK Europe 2010—expressed excitement about the solution, but remained concerned about safety issues associated with the use of mobile devices while driving. 

“My real concern is that there are two aspects to using computers while driving,” writes Larson, “taking your eyes off of the road to look at the screen [and] the cognitive overload to the driver's brain. This experiment deals only with the first aspect and not the second, which is also a big factor.”

VoiceTEXT has been in pilot testing for two months. Gilbert and his team will now launch a study of the solution via a driving simulator on the Clemson campus. Additionally, he holds a provisional patent on the technology and is making it available for licensing.

“We found that people liked this approach,” Gilbert says. “We believe it is safer than texting and we believe it’s safer than having a conversation on the phone and we’re going to study that.”

To watch a video of VoiceTEXT in action and participate in a corresponding survey, visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DC6S5X7.

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