Audio PDA with Speech Synth Pkans

Doug Sutherland doug at
Wed Feb 7 03:47:19 EST 2007


I am working towards producing a small pocket
sized linux system based on ARM920T processor
with onboard hardware speech synth. It will have
both USB host and device and will be able to
operate like a PDA when not connected to PC,
will support both normal keyboard plus some
simpler button/switch type interfaces, to allow
audio PDA functions, read your notes, contacts,
schedule, directions, etc.

It will also operate as a speech synth when
plugged into PC, and I have an ambitious goal
of making it driverless. By correctly implementing
the USB CDC (communications data class) serial
interface, no drivers will be needed to access
what will appear as a virtual serial port on both
windows and linux. Further, I believe there is a
way software-wise to make a USB storage class
entity appear to the system as a CDROM and
automatically do the AUTORUN.INF process,
which could then launch a screen reader and
other specialized audio based apps. This would
allow plugging into any PC, windows or linux,
and having a working speech synth, without
installing anything.

It will be some time before some of the software
is worked out, but I am deep into the hardware
now and should have prototypes soon. I am very
interested in feedback, especially things like what
kind of features would you like to have in both a
speech synth and a personal audio based PDA
type organizer. How can the human interface be
more ergonomic if we ditch the keyboard
paradigm for some controls, perhaps like a
small remote control for controlling the speech
playback and volume etc while roaming or even
when connected to PC in some instances, also
supporting full keyboard when necessary.

My strategic goal is to produce these in low
volume and sell them at very low price, much
lower than anything similar. The goal is not to
make money but to slowly build infrastructure
and skills to continue working on other similar
products, mostly geared towards portable
mobile systems and with special emphasis on
assistive interfaces of many kinds, not just
speech but others also.

I already have facility for CAD design of the
hardware, production soldering, assembly
and testing, and I'm starting on software now.
When I get further along I may ask if anyone
wants to participate in some beta testing by
trying out the device and giving feedback.
Also as I said I am very interested in feedback
especially out of the box thinking: you do not
need a PC to do these functions, old rules
go away and new possibilities emerge like
bluetooth, wifi, gsm/gprs, a specialized
small keypad/remote to control the speech.

There could be a mode where you plug into
PC USB port and walk away with only a
bluetooth headset and small keyboard,
but still can read email and web within a
certain amount of fixed restriction, or move
to full keyboard for serious work.

If this all sounds interesting to you and you
have some ideas or think you'd like to try
out early prototypes, please contact me
offline. I will also surely be trying out the
speakup, compiled into ARM kernel, with
playback of that kernel console plus ability
to act as a speech synth for pc running
speakup. That work should be in process
very soon. But I would love to hear any
suggestions or ideas, especially in the area
of usability, simplicity, ergonomics, how
can a speech synth be more usable and
more portable, how can it become much
more assistive, if you have a processor
running linux in your pocket?

Please contact me off list doug at
if you'd like to discuss this with me. I will
likely be giving away a certain number of
free prototypes eventually, but it may be
some time before that happens.

  -- Doug

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