Oh, technology. Why do we fear you so much? If you've ever been frustrated by a voice recognition phone answering service, then you may understand the apprehension some have about installing the technology into an elevator. What happens if the computer doesn't understand us, will we get caught inside? BBC Scotland's sketch show Burnistoun recently gave their take on the situation with their own madcap brand of comedic hijinks. These talking/listening elevators really do exist, but they're much less threatening than the Scottish jokers would have you believe. We've got Burnistoun's sketch for you below followed by some real footage for voice activated elevators. Laugh and learn, boys and girls, laugh and learn.
Despite the frustrations we have with computer answered phone systems, voice recognition has gotten better in the last decade. Speech to text products, like Dragon Dictation, are even available on the iPhone (which I use with great relish). There's also been improvements in getting computers able to understand what actions to take from a command. Those improvements are likely to continue as advanced forms of artificial intelligence are applied to phone answering services. The hope is that one day you'll be able to talk with a computer (on the phone, on your desk, or in an elevator) just as you would with a human being and with the same expectation of comprehension.
Obviously that level of expectation would have to be lowered for some:
Entranet is one of the real-life companies that brings voice recognition to the 'lift'. The Greek corporation, however, is smart enough not to completely remove the buttons from their design. Instead, the voice commands act as an augmentation to the normal controls allowing for the blind, or physically burdened, to request a floor without outside assistance. In times of elevator crisis, a stalled carriage for instance, the system can also directly connect the passengers with fire or emergency services. Here's a demo video for their Talk and Lift product. Due to some quirks in the acting I find this video almost as funny as the one above.
Burnistoun's assertions aside, Scottish accents aren't the hardest thing with which a voice-recognition elevator would have to contend. Every person who uses the system will speak at different levels of volume and with different tones. Entranet claims that there Talk and Lift system is able to compensate for these fluctuations and allows anyone to command the elevator no matter how they talk (or where they are from). Along with their elevator product, Entranet is also developing Talk and Enter, a security or door access system, and Housemate, a computer program that would allow you to turn on or off any product in your home with just your voice. Their site is still under construction, so it's hard to know how far along these products are.
I do know that we already have many elevators around the world with some level of voice command but that these are often custom systems. Will the phenomenon be brought to an elevator near you? Well, both Westinghouse and Toshiba have filed their own patents for speech recognition devices for security and elevators. So it looks like major international distributors at least have the potential to turn voice command technology into an industrial standard. Whether or not consumers will actually want these systems is anyone's guess. Who knows, maybe Burnistoun's comedy will help take the technology up to eleven.