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Big Blue Takes Speech Technologies Back to School
[February 24, 2006]

Big Blue Takes Speech Technologies Back to School

By ROBERT LIU
TMCnet Wireless and Technology Columnist
 
NEW YORK -- In 1995, Wake Forest University became one of the first schools in the country to standardize on the IBM Thinkpad notebook computer. So, for Anne L. Bishop, the University’s Director of Research and Development in Information Systems, it was only a matter of time before that cutting-edge leadership extended out to mobile technology.
 
“Mobility is the next major technology shift,” Bishop recently told reporters attending an IBM-sponsored event in Manhattan. “If we can capture the attention and the hearts of 18- to 22-year-olds and focus it on the classroom and student life, then this is a technology that's really worth paying attention to.”

 
Of course, adoption of new technology was certainly helped by the fact that an estimated 95 percent of the University’s student body already carries a cellular phone. So, last fall, Wake Forest started a pilot program dubbed “MobileU” in conjunction with IBM and other partners of the school.
 
Equipped with a PocketPC-based PDA device, students used a suite of applications to help them with some of the more mundane tasks of campus life. For example, from the University’s Registrar’s Office, students could download their class schedules directly onto the PDA, nicknamed “Mobi Deacs” after the school’s mascot, the Demon Deacons. The phones used are actually Siemens SX66 and Audiovox PPC 6600.
 
At the Technology Consortium 2006 conference being held this week on the Wake Forest campus, IBM officials and University Chief Information Officer Jay Dominick hosted a panel discussion and presented the MobileU project as a test-bed for best practices to enhance campus life. In conjunction with that, IBM on Friday announced it has developed a portfolio of speech-enabled Web applications for mobile phones.
 
The Web applications are hosted using IBM WebSphere Application Server, and synchronized to the devices using IBM Workplace Client Technology Micro Edition, a miniature application server that allows Web applications to continue to function in a disconnected state when wireless access is not available. Together with IBM WebSphere Everyplace Multimodal Environment software, multiple forms of input and output have been enabled on these mobile devices to blend speech input and output, keyboard and touch screen access.
 
“Web-based multimodal and speech technologies are a welcome solution to the information overload we all face today, representing a fundamental change in the software capabilities of mobile devices. In fact, without them the Web would be practically useless on mobile phones,” Igor Jablokov, Program Director of WebSphere Multimodal and Voice Portals, said in his prepared statement.
 
For example, as part of the MobileU project, students can find out if laundry machines are available before they leave their dorm room, the library or any other locations on campus. IBM was able to do that by augmenting IBM Embedded ViaVoice speech technologies into the software of an existing Web application by Mac-Gray Corp., a leading provider of laundry facilities management services to colleges and universities.
 
But perhaps more significant than the LaundryView application, the Wake Forest MobileU program also includes a shuttle bus tracking to help students identify when the next bus will arrive and when it will be safe to stand alone at night waiting at the stop. Global Positioning Satellite devices inside the buses use GPRS cellular technology to transmit location information from buses to servers on campus and ultimately to a student’s mobile phone to tell them how long they have to wait.
 
While the tracking service posed as a risk to a student’s personal privacy, the University was aware of those concerns and has addressed them accordingly, Bishop told TMCnet.
 
Other multimodal applications that IBM has developed that can voice-enable campus applications and services include parking lot monitoring to help users identify empty parking spaces and “Park and Pay-by-Cellphone” a wireless parking solution developed with the University of California, Santa Barbara.
 
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Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.

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