Product gives voice to computer commands
- By Paul Ferrill
- Dec 12, 2000
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.