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Communications Portables Hardware

Replacing VOCA with a Laptop? 19

Posted by Cliff
from the let-your-laptop-speak-for-you dept.
tomschuring asks: "A friend of mine has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and because of it, he is using a Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA). When I heard the quality speech of the portable device I was less than impressed. My Mac is much better at it and at least has a few different voices (like one with an English accent) to choose from. Has anybody used a laptop for this purpose? What text to speech engine are you using and what are our impressions? Is there predictive text software available for this purpose? Is the startup time and battery time acceptable for this sort of application?"
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Replacing VOCA with a Laptop?

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  • mobiles.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gl4ss (559668) on Sunday January 02, 2005 @05:34PM (#11239873) Homepage Journal
    http://www.scansoft.com/speechpak/talks/ [scansoft.com] is a text-to-speech software for the blind for use on symbian based (9210 and series60 phones such as 3650, n-gage, 6600 and so on) that does text-to-speech.

    anyhow, if you got a friend with s60 phone just give it a spin(you can try it for free). predictive text input is thrown in of course..

    i'd imagine a laptop to be quite a bitch to carry around. hell, i'd just skip speaking - would probably be easier... and do stuff like typical phone calls through sms, irc and email.. and just carry around some paper and pencils(provided that he could type fast).

  • Dasher (controlled by scanning eye movement if needed or joystick that can be controlled by single finger or mouth) piped into the ATT Natural Voices engine (search for it and play with the interactive demo). That is the oonly TS engine I have ever been truly impressed with.
  • Every time I've run across some kind of assistive technology, it's always amazed me how expensive the thing was, and how low the quality of output seemed to be, compared to, say, software solutions or general-purpose hardware adapted to the purpose.

    Does someone know why products like this cost insane amounts of money? And why someone would choose them over, say, a Macintosh or even a Linux box with appropriate software?

    • I know nothing about this field or the question (with the exception that ATT's Natural Voices sounds amazing), but I think I know the answer to this question.

      Economies of Scale

      Sure you could make these devices and sell 'em for $20 proffit each, but where would that get you? Only a few thousand of these things must get sold each year (at most). So you company that makes these things needs more than $10000 (assuming 500 sales at $20) proffit to stay afloat. Also, the research on interfaces and such for thos

    • I don't have voice problems, but do have a disability, and have seen this. This is why: it's a boutique situation: a few vendors, customers that *need* the product, and need it *now* (as in, major lifestyle degredation w/o wheelchair/hearing aids/adapted car, etc). So we get screwed on price and Q&A, because we don't have a choice; we can't tell the vendors where they can put their products.
  • Check out Cepstral [cepstral.com], which specializes in generating very good voices with open source tools. There is a better demo form here [cepstral.com] that lets you choose a voice and a number of special effects, including accents such as French Canadian or German.

    As a side note, one of its founders is Kevin Lenzo [cmu.edu], of YAPC and Perl Foundation fame.

    - Barrie

  • engineering (Score:4, Informative)

    by jeif1k (809151) on Sunday January 02, 2005 @05:47PM (#11239923)
    Engineering involves many tradeoffs. In this case, voice quality is only one desirable feature; battery life, size, cost, human factors, support, robustness, etc., are others. You may be able to do better with a laptop or you may not; but don't assume that just because your laptop has a better text-to-speech system it is overall better at the task.
  • pVoice (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kalak (260968) on Sunday January 02, 2005 @07:37PM (#11240481) Homepage Journal
    You didn't mention specific features, and VOCAs come in a wide variety of special features. With this in mind, there is one thing to consider that dedicated VOCAs have over notebooks. The ones I have seen (for my daughter, now 6) are built for abuse. Not abuse in the laptop sense, but abuse as in get dropped from a few feet, have stuff spilled on them sense. This is one reason for their pricetag

    With that in mind, if a notebook is fair game, you should look at pVoice [pvoice.org]. It is open in design (and open source) as well as being free in cost. It was created by a father for his daugher who is a spastic quadraplegic, and the labor of love shows.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 02, 2005 @11:28PM (#11241557)
    I often use VOCAs to speak.

    Let me give this suggestion: Your friend is best off getting professionally evaulated and getting the best system for his use.

    I use a custom-made speech program on a Tablet PC with the AT&T Natural Voices. It's a workable solution some of the time. However, without my Lightwriter and Link, I'd be in serious trouble.

    The tablet PC simply takes too long to boot. The Lightwriter and Link boot instantly. The tablet isn't as portable. The battery life on the tablet isn't as good. And the tablet will break if I drop it.

    Also, DECtalk, the normal voice on these speech devices, sounds lousy but is actually very readable. For people I speak with for more then a few minutes, I find that they ask me to repeat less with DECtalk then AT&T natural voices.

    I've seen lots of people try building solutions themselves for this. My advice: Don't do that for someone's primary form of communication! If it is a backup to their primary device, that's fine, but do you really want someone's voice depending on your ability to build a solution? This is very serious business.
  • My Newton can talk. Specifically, a MessagePad 2100, although the 2000 will talk too, and I think the 130 might as well.
    All you need to do is install the MacInTalk extension, and bam, speaking Newton.

    Can your friend write at all, or is that a no go as well?

    Newtons sold here [jksalesinc.com]. Speech extensions here [unna.org].

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"

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