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Replacing VOCA with a Laptop?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the let-your-laptop-speak-for-you dept.

Communications 19

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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I'd get first post... but... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11239837)

I'd get first post, but the damn one-button computer interface won't let me type fast enough!

-- Not Stephen Hawking

mobiles.. (2, Interesting)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#11239873)

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).

perfect solution (1)

wcb4 (75520) | more than 9 years ago | (#11239877)

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.

2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (1)

IO ERROR (128968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11239890)

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?

Re:2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (2, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | more than 9 years ago | (#11240489)

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 those who can't use a keyboard might make these things loss leaders. If they make any proffit, they would want to make LOTS to cover all the expenses (again, without the economies of scale, they can't be built too cheaply).

It's that rarity that I would think would make it more expensive. Is there greed involved? Maybe. Maybe they overcharge so when people put it on medicare or insurance and the insurance company doesn't pony up all the dough they still get enough to make a proffit (I've heard of this in prices for other medial instruments and treatments).

Those are my guesses anyway.

Re:2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11241524)

It's sad - my hearing aids (which are the most powerful and advanced on the market) cost more than some high-end audio amplifiers, and all I get is AM-quality sound.

What's worse is that I paid full price for each of them ($2,500 each), yet when the state purchased the exact same thing, via their insurance program, the price was $700 less. They didnt get a bulk-rate deal either... Looks like the insurance companies are getting the better of the two deals.

Re:2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11247008)

economics of "because we can"

you sell something for as much as you can. if that means it costs you 12 cents to build and can sell it for $100,000 it will be sold for that much.
as long as you can get away with it.

Re:2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11241491)

Insurance.

Re:2. Build assistive technology 3. Profit! (2, Insightful)

magefile (776388) | more than 9 years ago | (#11241535)

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.

Bullshit (-1, Offtopic)

TeleoMan (529859) | more than 9 years ago | (#11239906)

I think he just has Groat's syndrome [hbo.com] .

/I keed. I keed.

Check out Cepstral (1)

barries (15577) | more than 9 years ago | (#11239907)

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

Re:Check out Cepstral (1)

le_jfs (627582) | more than 9 years ago | (#11245624)

If you want some good quality, you should check the
eLite text-to-speech [multitel.be] demo.

It has english and french voices and is available for free for non-military and non-commercial purposes .

laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11239913)

flite (festival lite) runs fine on my zaurus

engineering (3, Informative)

jeif1k (809151) | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Because someone had to say it.... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11239929)

http://www.mchawking.com/ [mchawking.com] Laugh. It's funny. Anonymous for the semi-offtopic-ness.

pVoice (4, Informative)

Kalak (260968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11240481)

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.

I have problems speaking (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#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.

Gift suggestions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11241764)

1/2 an hour ago, I left a meeting, where one of the speakers was a deaf-mute, talking through an interpreter. The volunteer interpreter however, is considerably below par. (Not that I could do it - no way, but this guy is pretty bad!) Because of the interpreter problem, listening to about 10-15 sentences took 10 minutes.

Can I get a used zaurus or any other solution cheaply to give the d-m (not the bad interpreter) as a gift, say, sub $200?

I'm a fanboy, but. (1)

kerobaros (683745) | more than 9 years ago | (#11248839)

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] .

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