Mouth sounds, rather than whole words or sentences, control vocal joysticks, enabling people without the use of their hands to deftly use computers. Cynthia Graber reports.
The internet has changed the world. But the information and resources it provides can be out of reach to those with physical disabilities that affect their hands and arms. Now scientists at the University of Washington are developing a solution using the human voice. It’s called a Vocal Joystick. You might be thinking, okay, the software recognizes speech. So someone says, “scroll down the page,” and the cursor responds. But saying that sentence takes too long—people without physical disabilities navigate the web much faster than that.
Instead of full sentences, vowels move the Vocal Joystick cursor in eight directions. Sounds like ah, ee and oo, k or ch, release the mouse. Raising the pitch of the voice speeds the cursor. The Vocal Joystick has been developed for the internet, for playing video games, even for operating a robotic arm. Developers believe that it could eventually allow people to drive a wheelchair using only sounds. They also plan on incorporating other vocal expressions such as trills and vibrato into later versions. Which eventually could sound something like singing to a computer.