Voice Portal - Internet for the Blind
14 August 2002 at 1:08 pm
A Sydney computer expert is developing Australia’s first voice portal that offers access to the Internet via a standard telephone. In the first instance it has enormous scope for the vision impaired to allow them to browse the World Wide Web – and it needs corporate assistance!
Stephen Choularton is an honours student at Macquarie University in the area of language technology.
Choularton says he’s very keen to establish a voice portal that goes beyond just accessing email over the telephone which is currently available via three services in the US. They are www.tellme.com, www.bevocal.com and www.heyanita.com.
Research being carried out for his thesis has voice portals being linked to the Internet and any form of information which is capable of being placed on a database can be accessed using voice alone.
So how does it work? The user doesn’t need a computer, just a telephone. If a vision-impaired person can use the phone then they dial the voice portal and make their request. The computer at the other end finds the appropriate Internet site and connects the user with that site.
So if you are looking for a cheap airline ticket for example, the caller uses normal speech to make the request. The computer finds an appropriate airline or ticketing agent and redirects to that site where the conversation continues until the caller is satisfied.
But any information on the Internet can be accessed; encyclopedias, weather forecasters, stock markets you name it!
Choularton says the application is not just for the blind but for anyone who needs the Internet without having to use their own computer and predicts that within five years all large and medium sized companies will handle all their routine inquiries using this method.
He says his aim is to produce applications that help and don’t frustrate.
He’s also keen to see corporations sponsor organisations assisting blind people to ensure the voice portal technology is available to them.
You can check out the research at www.ics.mq.edu.au/~stephenc.