TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Talking to Your Home Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Home Automation

Talking to Your Home

By Bruce Lawton

Introduction

The futuristic world of talking to your home to operate everything in it is here now! Well, how many times have we heard claims like that? The truth is: for some it really is here now; for others, it is not quite ready yet. Speech recognition technology is delivering some amazing results already and it is just getting better as the computers get faster and the recognition software continues to improve.

To make it happen, we'll be talking about voice commands, microphone(s), a Power Macintosh, software, X-10 home automation hardware and your existing lamps, appliances and other gadgets. This discussion assumes you're already familiar with general X-10 home automation. If not, check out the June 2000 issue of MacTech.

Why You Might Want to Use Voice Commands

The most useful application for speech recognition is for persons wanting to overcome a physical handicap. With limited mobility or limited dexterity, speech recognition enables someone to operate lamps, appliances and home entertainment units that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to operate. In this way, the quality of life can be greatly improved, giving the person a bit more independence.

For those who are not physically limited, operating the home by voice can be a matter of convenience or just plain fun. How many times have you settled into bed and then realized (perhaps with a little helpful reminder from your dear significant other) that some lights were left on? The easiest thing to do is to say "Turn off all lights."

It is also impressive to show your PC friends what your Macintosh will do in response to your voice commands. There's nothing quite like seeing everyday hardware operated by voice.


Figure 1. From voice to lamp.

Setting up the Microphone(s)

To get started, you must first plan how you're going to get your voice to your Macintosh. There are at least three ways to do it. The most inexpensive microphone configuration is the standard PlainTalk, corded microphone connected directly to your Mac. The obvious drawback is that the cord restricts the distance you can go from your Mac while issuing voice commands. In some situations, this may be adequate.

The most cost-effective approach giving you more range is to use a wireless microphone that transmits your voice as your own personal FM radio station. Then you have a small FM radio connected to your Mac to feed the sound in. The range on the microphone should enable operation from anywhere in a normal-sized home. My own experience is that the Pro.2 microphone from Lotus Productions ( www.lotusproductions.com, (800) 211-3778 ) works well and costs around $45. A small $25 radio from Radio Shack will receive the FM signal and should be connected to either your A/V Mac's RCA input jacks or directly to the PlainTalk mic jack using a standard 3.5 mm stereo plug as shown below. The PlainTalk jack is really a stereo line-level input. The extra length of the plug allows the Mac to supply power to the tip which is then used by circuitry in the PlainTalk mic. The normal 3.5 mm stereo plug doesn't use that available power. The headphone jack of the radio provides an audio signal compatible with the PlainTalk mic input. Make sure you adjust the radio headset volume to get the clearest sound with no clipping.


Figure 2. FM microphone and radio.

The deluxe approach is to use in-wall microphones and a mixer. This costs the most, but can give you completely hands-free voice control from any room. There is a fair amount of experience in the comp.home.automation newsgroup from those who have set this up on Windows. It can work well, though I must admit I haven't done this myself — my own home has far too much "noise". Wired microphones can be great for a home with one or maybe two people living there, but may not work well with several people. The Mac's PlainTalk can get confused if it is listening to many voices at once. When using in-wall microphones, each mic has a cable that is run back to the mixer, which is presumably near the Mac. The audio output from the mixer is then connected to the Mac's sound input. Similar to the FM radio configuration, you can feed the line-level signal either into your A/V Mac's RCA input jacks or directly into the PlainTalk mic jack using a standard 3.5 mm stereo plug.

Shure (www.shure.com, (847) 866-2200) makes the SCM-410 and SCM-810 mixers with 4 and 8 inputs respectively. They dynamically cut out the microphones that are not being used, improving the audio quality for the microphone you're speaking to. They cost $800 and $1,200 at iAutomate ( www.iAutomate.com, (800) 741-6790 ). HomeVoice also makes a mixer, sold as part of their "Multiroom Processor Kit" at SmartHome (www.smarthome.com, (800) 762-7846) for $690. Good, compatible, in-wall microphones vary greatly in price, from $70 to $250 or more. One of the most recommended models is the Crown PZM-11, sold at iAutomate and SmartHome.


Figure 3. In-wall microphones with a mixer.

The Software

For our purposes, there are two categories of speech recognition software: dictation and discrete commands. IBM's ViaVoice is an excellent way to get your speech dictation into the Macintosh, but the resulting stream of words is not "understood" by the ViaVoice software. That is, it doesn't know what action you want taken in response to the words. Dictation software is intended as an alternate method of text input — it is not going to help you operate your X-10 system. This is where you want software that understands discrete commands. PlainTalk is at the heart of this type of speech recognition. As it has steadily improved over the years and CPU's have sped up, the reliability has become quite good. The Thinking Home application uses PlainTalk to make your X-10 devices available. First, install PlainTalk. This is done via a "Custom" installation from your MacOS CD or it can be downloaded from Apple's web site at <http://www.apple.com/macos/speech/>. Next, ensure you have checked the "Respond to Voice Commands" checkbox in the Preferences as seen in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Enabling speech commands.

You need to have a device named "Bedroom Lamp" like the example of Figure 5. Now you can say "Turn off the bedroom lamp." and Thinking Home will do the right thing.


Figure 5. Your device names are used by PlainTalk.

Syntax of What You Say to Make it Work

In order to operate a device using Thinking Home, you speak a normal sentence, with the action followed by the device name. For example, "Turn off the bedroom lamp." or "Set the thermostat to heat." The precise syntax is shown here in Backus-Naur Form notation:

<voice-command>   ::= <action> <device-name> |
        "What is the status of the> <device-name> |
      "Set the" <thermostat-name> "to" <mode>
<action>   ::= "Turn on" | "Turn off" | "Dim" | "Brighten"
<device-name>   ::= the device name used in the Thinking Home document
<thermostat-name>::= <device-name> | "thermostat"
<mode>   ::= "Heat" | "Cool" | "Off"

More examples:

  • Turn on the bedroom lamp.
  • Turn off the kitchen light.
  • Dim the theater lights. — will be dimmed by 35%
  • Brighten the bedroom lamp. — for a gentle start in the morning.
  • Set the thermostat to cool.
  • What is the status of the sidewalk lights?

Note that the thermostat can be referred to by the name you gave it, like any other device. Or you can refer to it simply as "thermostat" and Thinking Home will use the first thermostat it finds in any open document.

There are some caveats to asking for the status of a device. First of all, the Mac will speak the reply and you may not be at your Macintosh if you are using the wireless mic or mics installed in each room. The other issue is the accuracy of the status. This will depend on whether the X-10 module is able to report its status. Two-way device modules ($25+) will report their status, but the most common modules that sell for $4 to $12 do not. If you're using an ActiveHome CM-11A computer interface, it will keep track of X-10 commands observed on your home wiring and will report the status of the lamp. This assumes you have not operated it manually. The report from a two-way lamp module would reflect its actual state, including manual operation.

You can also control your X-10 thermostat by saying "Set the thermostat to cool." The choices for thermostat modes are cool, heat and off. Unfortunately, you cannot say "Set the thermostat to 72 degrees." This is one place where PlainTalk is not quite ready. Recognizing spoken numbers is much more difficult than most other speech.

Speakable Items (installed with PlainTalk) is another way to access some of Thinking Home's functionality via speech. For example, you may want to know the time of sunset on a regular basis. By making a Speakable Item like the example below, you can say to your Macintosh "When is sunset?" and the Speakable Items application will run the the AppleScript by that name. The AppleScript can, in turn, tell Thinking Home to speak the time of today's sunset as seen here in Figure 6.


Figure 6. Using Speakable Items to get the time of sunset.

This is also how you can get XTension v3.0 (from Sand Hill Engineering) to respond to your voice. Although XTension does not have built-in support for PlainTalk, it does have excellent support for AppleScript. You can use Speakable Items for speech recognition and make an AppleScript for each command you want recognized. Your scripts in the Speakable Items folder will tell XTension which X-10 device to operate. For example, to get the time of sunset, you'd write a script almost exactly as that for Thinking Home.


Figure 7. XTension Speakable Item for getting the time of sunset.

To use XTension to operate devices via speech, you create an AppleScript like that in Figure 8 and name it as you intend to speak it. Like before, you name this script "Turn off the bedroom lamp". You'll also need to make a similar one for "Turn on the bedroom lamp."


Figure 8. XTension Speakable Item for operation of a device.

To get device status using XTension, you write an AppleScript similar to that shown in Figure 9.


Figure 9. XTension Speakable Item for getting the status of a device.

Tips

Since faster CPU's seem to perform better than slower ones, you will probably want to avoid using a Power Macintosh running less than 100 MHz.

The Shure web site has a wealth of useful information and general advice regarding the various options, such as ceiling- vs. wall-mounted microphones. <http://www.shure.com/support/technotes/app-soundcard.html#Macintosh>

Before you demo your cool home to others, test it out in advance. In particular, check that it works reliably from all locations you plan to be when showing it. When using a wireless microphone, ensure the range is sufficient to operate consistently from all locations where you will be using it. Also, make sure the ambient sounds are the same. Putting on background music just as your guests arrive will change the "noise" level and your speech commands may very well get lost. Once you have it set up nicely, your friends will be amazed.

Conclusion

Integrating speech recognition into your Macintosh X-10 home automation can be useful, convenient and fun. This futuristic technology is ready and affordable today and still improving. Select an arrangement that fits your lifestyle and budget and try it out.

Links


Bruce Lawton is still an enthusiastic Macintosh developer who first got hooked over 15 years ago. He can be reached at bruce@alwaysthinking.com.

 
AAPL
$117.86
Apple Inc.
-0.77
MSFT
$47.62
Microsoft Corpora
+0.03
GOOG
$539.75
Google Inc.
+0.48

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

MacUpdate Desktop 6.0.3 - Discover and i...
MacUpdate Desktop 6 brings seamless 1-click installs and version updates to your Mac. With a free MacUpdate account and MacUpdate Desktop 6, Mac users can now install almost any Mac app on macupdate.... Read more
SteerMouse 4.2.2 - Powerful third-party...
SteerMouse is an advanced driver for USB and Bluetooth mice. It also supports Apple Mighty Mouse very well. SteerMouse can assign various functions to buttons that Apple's software does not allow,... Read more
iMazing 1.1 - Complete iOS device manage...
iMazing (was DiskAid) is the ultimate iOS device manager with capabilities far beyond what iTunes offers. With iMazing and your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod), you can: Copy music to and from... Read more
PopChar X 7.0 - Floating window shows av...
PopChar X helps you get the most out of your font collection. With its crystal-clear interface, PopChar X provides a frustration-free way to access any font's special characters. Expanded... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.0.3 - Easy-to-use b...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
ForeverSave 2.1.3 - Universal auto-save...
ForeverSave auto-saves all documents you're working on while simultaneously doing backup versioning in the background. Lost data can be quickly restored at any time. Losing data, caused by... Read more
Voila 3.8.1 - Capture, annotate, organiz...
Voila is a screen-capture, recording, and annotation tool that is a full-featured replacement for Mac's screen-capture and screen-recording capabilities. It has a large and robust set of editing,... Read more
SyncTwoFolders 2.0.6 - Syncs two user-sp...
SyncTwoFolders simply synchronizes two folders. It supports synchronization across mounted network drives and it is a possibility to run a simulation showing in a log what will be done. Please visit... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.1.1 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator detects... Read more
HandBrake 0.10.0 - Versatile video encod...
HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs. Supported Sources: VIDEO_TS folder, DVD image or real DVD (unencrypted -- CSS is... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Tilt to Live Bundle Set to Arrive This T...
Tilt to Live Bundle Set to Arrive This Thanksgiving Posted by Ellis Spice on November 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] One Man Left has unveiled an upcoming Tilt to Live bundle, allowing players to get the series for a di | Read more »
Weather Or Not Review
Weather Or Not Review By Jennifer Allen on November 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STYLISH WEATHER REPORTINGiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Check the weather quickly and conveniently with Weather or Not... | Read more »
The All-New Football Manager Handheld 20...
The All-New Football Manager Handheld 2015 is Available Now Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Six iOS Games to Get You Ready for Thank...
Image Source: Friends Wiki At this point in the month, you or at least a few people you know are probably getting ready to scramble around (or are already scrambling around) for Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s a hectic day of precise oven utilization, but... | Read more »
Call of Duty: Heroes: Tips, Tricks, and...
Hello Heroes: What’d we think of Call of Duty‘s take on Clash of Clans? Check out our Call of Duty: Heroes review to find out! Just downloaded Call of Duty: Heroes and need some handy tips and tricks on how to get ahead of the rest? As we often do,... | Read more »
Call of Duty: Heroes Review
Call of Duty: Heroes Review By Jennifer Allen on November 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CLASH OF FRANCHISESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Mix Clash of Clans with Call of Duty, and this is what you get.   | Read more »
Slider Review
Slider Review By Jordan Minor on November 25th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SLIDE TO PLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Slider has all the excitement of unlocking your phone screen.   | Read more »
oh my giraffe (Games)
oh my giraffe 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Eat fruits while being chased by lions. Cut the vines to send fruit plummeting onto the lions. Don't worry, your flexible... | Read more »
One of 2000’s Most Loves Adventure Games...
One of 2000’s Most Loves Adventure Games, The Longest Journey, has Come to iOS Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Give a RED Gift from Apple and Help Figh...
Give a RED Gift from Apple and Help Fight AIDS Posted by Jessica Fisher on November 25th, 2014 [ permalink ] In the spirit of the holidays, Apple has partnered with (RED), a project that helps create items to fund AIDS programs in Africa, to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Early Black Friday MacBook Pro sale: 15-inch...
 Best Buy has posted early Black Friday prices on 15″ Retina MacBook Pros, with models on sale for $300 off MSRP on their online store for a limited time. Choose free local store pickup (if available... Read more
A9 Chips Already?
It’s barely more than a couple of months since Apple got the first A8 systems-on-chip into consumer hands, but rumor and news focus is already turning to the next-generation A9 SoC. Apple Daily... Read more
NewerTech Announces NuGuard KXs Impact X-Orbi...
NewerTech has announced updates to its family of Impact X-Orbing Screen Armor bringing military grade, triple layer protection to Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Like all models in the NuGuard KXs... Read more
13-inch 1.4GHz MacBook Air on sale for $889,...
 B&H Photo has the 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $889 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $110 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
Save up to $300 on Macs and iPads with your A...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
Apple refurbished Mac Pros available for up t...
The Apple Store is offering Apple Certified Refurbished Mac Pros for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The... Read more
Jumptuit Launches One-Tap Windows 8.1 iTunes...
Jumptuit has launched Windows 8.1 support for One-Tap iTunes Sync. with which Windows 8.1 users can now easily sync their iTunes libraries with Microsoft OneDrive. Jumptuit provides easy access from... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 13-inch 2014 Retin...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pros for up to $230 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
CEA Study Finds More People Recycling Electro...
A new study by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) finds that electronics recycling receives the continued and growing support of consumers. According to the CEA,s Recycling and Reuse Study,... Read more
15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $17...
 B&H Photo has the 2014 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale today for $1749. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.