Star Trek fans … your prayers have been answered. Applied Future Technologies has “Made it so!!!” Although some may cringe at the thought of talking to the walls, HomeVoice let’s you do just that … and the walls can even answer you back and wink at you to boot.
HomeVoice comes on an ordinary old CDROM and installs easily on your system (sorry but you need at least a Pentium 75, 16MB Ram, 165MB Disk Space and Windows95 … ouch). And of course, your PC needs to be running the software for the system to work. Oh yes, you’ll also need one of the following home controllers and of course at least one microphone connected to your Sound Blaster compatable sound card:
* Applied Future Technologies, Inc.: HomeWizard and HomeISA
* Home Controls, Inc.: HomeBase
* JDS Technologies: Time Commander, Time Commander Plus, Stargate, Infrared Xpander
* Custom Solutions, Inc.: HomeVision Integrated Controller
* Madenta Communications, Inc.: PROXi
* Phoenix Development Group: MASS Software
* X10, Inc.: CM11A
This is a lot of hardware (much of it necessary to drive the voice synthesis response engine) but after all HomeVoice can do a lot of stuff. So, what is HomeVoice exactly. When you start up the software you get 2 screens … HomeVoice and Verbex Listen (Version 3.0 Build 15). Aha … now I understand how this works (I think). Listen is actually the Voice Recognition end of the software solution. It’s what you train and talk to. When it understands what you said, it sends the appropriate commands to HomeVoice which in turn interprets and relays the command via the serial port to your home controller.
In the example screens shown above, when I said the command “radio channel down”, HomeVoice sent a command to the Home Controller “irr=tuner chdn” which tells the controller to tell the radio to move a channel down. Simple as that. You can even have the system talk back to you after you issue a command.
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System setup requires that you “train” Listen to understand your voice commands and tell it which control commands to send to HomeVoice in response. Voice training is a matter of typing in what you want to use as the command (ie “radio channel down”) and selecting “Train Phrase” from the Listen menu. You will then be asked to speak the command (in your normal voice) a few times so that Listen can learn to recognize your voice saying the command. Each user of the system will have to train Listen to recognize their voice (each has a separate voice file in Listen). This could get tedious with a complex system but I think normally there wouldn’t be that many commands necessary. So, just another family evening spent talking to the walls is required.
Typing in the appropriate control commands isn’t too difficult. The script for X10 looks quite familiar … for example “X10=A3 DIM=3” means send 3 DIM commands to module A3. You can send multiple commands by using a tilde (~) between them. For IR commands, the command looks like this – “irr=tuner chdn”. The right hand side of the “=” must be the same as the command that is used on your automation controller. Depending on the controller that you use (ie HomeVision, TimeCommander etc.) you will be required to tell HomeVoice where the IR database file for the controller is to be found.
To get a response from HomeVoice you must edit the Homevoic.res file (like an .ini file) by typing in the voice command and the appropriate response. HomeVoice uses a 32-bit speech synthesizer to convert the text you input into speech output. You can insert multiple responses for each command and they will be used at random by the system.
* Good voice recognition with Verbex Listen software.
* Voice control from any room equipped with a microphone (no telephone required)
* Compatable with many of todays modern home controllers.
* It’s a gas to tell your lights to flash and have them do it.
* Heavy on the hardware requirements.
* Requires PC to run continuously.
* Relatively energy intesive setup if a complex system is involved.
HomeVoice sells for approximately $300. All of the instructions are found in a small “readme” file and the Listen software has extensive online help. Applied Future Technologies will also sell you microphones (that fit in a standard wall switch box and look like a wall switch), mixers etc. so that you can talk to the system from any room in the house. AFT also offers 2 controllers including the HomeISA which is an inexpensive ISA card solution that handles X-10 and IR (Retail is $499 and includes HomeVoice which retails for $299 on its own). This is fun stuff and I’ll be watching closely as future generations of the software evolve. As I was only able to use my PC microphone to review the system I can’t attest to the claims that the system will recognize commands in a room with lots of background noise (ie TV on and kids arguing). Perhaps one of you out there who is using the system could send me an email with your comments.