Product gives voice to computer commands

Interacting with a computer using your voice has been an illusive dream ever since "Star Trek" introduced the idea in the 1960s. Although technology has come a long way in speech recognition, it is not yet capable of replacing the keyboard or mouse. It does, however, provide a viable alternative for physically challenged computer users.

Voice Pilot PAL takes a step closer to the future in ways that change the user's overall experience.

Voice Pilot PAL, for example, cuts down on one of the drawbacks to the Microsoft Corp. Windows interface — the number of steps it takes to accomplish many common tasks. With Windows, entering a new name and address in the typical contact-management program could take as many as five mouse clicks plus keyboard entries. With Voice Pilot PAL, you simply speak the words "new address" and a screen for entering the contact information pops up.

Installation of the program is straightforward, although the first time I tried to run it I got an error message. Checking the Voice Pilot Web site turned up a fix for the problem including step-by-step instructions. After downloading and installing the patch, the program came up as expected.

Voice Pilot PAL comes with a standard set of applications including an address book, a calendar and a notepad. The notepad program will take dictation, although its performance and recognition capabilities were less than stellar.

Voice recognition accuracy is directly related to the underlying engine. For my testing I used the Microsoft engine included with Voice Pilot PAL.

Navigating around a computer form using my voice took some getting used to, but once I got acclimated, it was really easy. To move to a specific field, I simply said the name of the field. To delete the previous character, I said "backspace." To capitalize the next character, I said "capital."

The toughest task for almost all voice-recognition programs is interpreting proper names. To get around the problem, the user must spell out the unrecognizable word phonetically using the standard military alphabet (alpha for A, bravo for B, etc.).

One drawback of the current version of Voice Pilot PAL lies in its integration with other programs. For instance, to use the dictation capability to create a Microsoft Word document, the user must first create a document in PAL and then cut and paste the text into Word. Another integration issue occurs when using Microsoft Outlook. I had to perform an import/export procedure to move contact information between PAL and Outlook.

Documentation for Voice Pilot PAL comes on CD-ROM in Portable Document Format. The manual provides clear instructions for all the applications, including screen shots that show the most common functions. Online help is available as well.

For the time being, Voice Pilot PAL is an interesting supplement to existing input devices. But the product probably won't replace the keyboard and mouse for most users any time soon.

Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.

REPORT CARD

Voice Pilot PAL

Score: C+

Voice Pilot Inc.

(305) 412-8217

www.voicepilot.com

Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $60.

Remarks: Voice Pilot PAL offers an array of common applications thatwork using voice commands and input. However, integration with other applicationssuch as Microsoft Office is somewhat tedious. Although voice commands aren'tquite ready to replace the mouse and keyboard, they do represent a viablealternative for physically challenged users.

BY Paul Ferrill
December 13, 2000

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