PDAs learn to listen up

www.infoworld.com |  Hardware

AT NEXT WEEK'S Demo 2000 conference, Lernout & Hauspie will take the concept of the handheld computer one step further by demonstrating a prototype voice-controlled PDA (personal digital assistant).

The prototype, code-named Nuk, incorporates three innovations: It is the first handheld to include a large-vocabulary speech-recognition engine, it runs on a mobile version of the Linux operating system, and it uses Intel's next-generation StrongArm II low-power chip for handheld devices. Its name is an abbreviation of the Hawaiian word Nukulu, meaning echo.

The device will give users with a wireless connection voice access to Web sites for e-commerce transactions such as buying and selling stocks or ordering books online as well as the ability to read and send e-mail using vocal commands.

David Leibowitz, solutions development manager for Nine West Group in White Plains, N.Y., a large wholesaler, retailer, and distributor of women's footwear and accessories, believes speech recognition tied to a wireless device will have a powerful business benefit. Nine West moved from faxing field reports to a mobile system using a Nokia 9000 handheld, which has a small keyboard.

"The 9000 is a great device, but if you could input the report with your voice it would be meaningful. [We want] anything to free up the time," Leibowitz said.

Like Nine West, L&H officials envision many business solutions such as insurance company claims adjusters using speech, rather than keyboards, to fill out forms.

Another IT executive said voice recognition will expand the base of users at his company, adding that the Palm handheld's use of Graffiti handwriting-recognition may have held it back.

"If you didn't have to learn Graffiti, it would open up the market to a wide range of executives," said John Weaver, vice president of information technology at Electra Entertainment Group, in New York.

The StrongArm II was optimized to run the mobile version of Linux, said Bill DeStefanis, senior director of product management at L&H, and has the equivalent performance of a desktop Pentium III.

"The StrongArm II mimics high-performance desktop processing on a battery-powered, low-voltage device," DeStefanis said. "It has the additional horsepower and statistical math co-processing capability for robust support of a large-vocabulary speech engine," he added.

StrongArm II should ship in the second half of 2000, said an Intel representative, and will have 400-to 500-MHz performance at launch.

One analyst said Linux is a good choice as the handheld's OS, because it has a low power overhead.

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