Look Mom, No Hands: Implementing Speech-Enabled Applications

Speech-based technology has evolved to where it is robust enough to be used by emergency responders.


Recent technological advances in voice recognition systems have shattered traditional associations with ineffective and often times frustrating automated prompts and customer relationship management technologies. Thanks to advances in voice recognition engines and middleware solutions, speech-based technology has evolved to where it is robust enough to be used by emergency responders in even the most extreme crisis scenarios. Whereas in the past, converting applications for speech-based input was an extremely difficult and imprecise undertaking, today's advances have resulted in speech-based end-to-end solutions that are reliable, ruggedized, user friendly and affordable. Current voice recognition technologies offer a number of advantages for highly mobile, rapidly deployed and compartmentalized emergency response forces.

In an e-form-based government environment protecting and serving the public, emergency workers must be expert record keepers and IT specialists, maintaining and submitting detailed preliminary and post-incident reports to an organizational database. This paperwork, regardless of how necessary it may be, demands time and attention that detracts from emergency workers' ability to carry out their primary job function. Additionally, emergency workers must have rapid access to information critical to the immediate task. Whether running the plates on a suspicious vehicle or pulling medical records for a trauma patient, emergency personnel must be able to access this information while being hyper-aware of their surrounding environment. While installing PCs in emergency vehicles represents improvement in the efforts to make information more readily accessible for emergency workers, these systems still require personnel to shift focus from the task at hand and give their eyes and hands to the data query and retrieval process.

With recent advances in voice recognition technologies, a speech-enabled data retrieval and submission system for emergency rescue workers is both a feasible and advantageous project. In practice, speech-enabling existing data systems would allow emergency workers to direct all of their attention to their immediate task, providing a "hands free, eyes free" means of accessing information and filing reports. Additionally, reports could be filed and records established in real time. Not only does this result in cost savings as a reduction of labor and cycle-time, in many instances (especially with first responders and health care workers), improved cycle-time can mean a faster response time, and a faster response time can mean the difference between life and death.

Ideal scenarios for speech-based applications
Scenarios in which speech-based applications would be of enormous benefit to emergency workers include:

  • A SWAT officer, while carrying his automatic rifle and directing his team with eyes on target, reports into a ruggedized PDA while carrying out a raid on a suspected drug dealer's house. During the raid the officer reports the details of the crime scene, and once suspects have been apprehended and evidence secured, records can be compiled based on the officer's spoken account of the situation. Based on his voice report, wirelessly transmitted to a local police database, a detailed report is stored which later can be used as evidence in court.
  • An EMT arrives at an incident scene to find several patients unconscious. While providing critical care with both hands, he dictates their vital signs and physical symptoms via a lapel microphone into a PDA in his jumpsuit pocket.

    The data the EMT transmits automatically becomes part of the patients' electronic medical records. Based on this data, transmitted wirelessly to the nearest hospital, the emergency room staff is able to pre-position materials and notify public health authorities of a potential bio-chemical attack, resulting in rapid mobilization of other first responders.

  • A nurse records vital signs for patients in a hospital ward using her voice recorded by a wireless-equipped PDA. The data is uploaded to the hospital information system when she places her PDA in its cradle to connect and recharge.
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