Researchers create hands-free alternative to texting while driving

Researchers at Clemson University's Human Centered Computing Lab have developed a hands-free alternative to cell phone texting while driving.

Researchers at Clemson University's Human Centered Computing Lab (HCCL) have developed a hands-free alternative to cell phone texting while driving.

Dr. Juan Gilbert, professor and chairman at the school's Human Centered Computing Division, and his team have created an application called VoiceTEXT, that allows drivers to speak text messages and keep their eyes on the road at the same time.

VoiceTEXT works by connecting a cell phone to an in-car hands-free system and setting it to "vocal" mode. According to Ars Technica, this action connects the phone to a central server, which can then record and send messages. The message is then transmitted as a voicemail message, an e-mail with a link to the message audio file, or transcribed using speech recognition software and sent as an SMS message. The format delivered is dependent on the status of the receiving phone. So text messages sent to the phone in "vocal" mode can be read aloud to the driver using text-to-speech software.

“You can speak to your phone and tell it to send a message to an individual. The recipient’s phone recognizes the voice as a text message and the other person is able to respond appropriately,” Gilbert said.

Ars learned from Gilbert that individual apps could be made for different phones to make activation and interfacing with the server even easier. For instance, apps can be used to upload contact data to the server, which is needed to interpret voice commands for selecting a recipient of a message.

Similar functionality is available from smartphones such as those equipped with voice SMS, or in the case of the iPhone, the Voice Control feature. However, VoiceTEXT doesn't require any specific phone or OS to operate.

"Your cell provider would offer this as an option...we are looking to get the technology licensed by Google, Verizon, OnStar, or other service providers." Gilbert told Ars.

While no deals have been inked yet, he believes the system is mature enough to be operational before 2011.

Gilbert and his researchers are conducting a survey on the use of VoiceTEXT. The survey page opens with a video demonstration of VoiceTEXT.

VoiceTEXT isn't revolutionary, but is a step in the right direction and it's working to solve a serious problem. In the U.S., texting is now more popular than calling and despite 19 statewide bans, people continue the practice. The cost to society is not inconsequential. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2008 that driver distraction is the cause of 16% of all fatal crashes and 21% of crashes resulting in an injury. Cell phone use is among the reasons for driver distraction, the agency says.

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