Texting while driving leads to thousands of accidents each year in the United States alone, and the death toll continues to rise. Luckily, text to speech technology is coming to the rescue. Drive Safe.ly is a mobile app (now available on Blackberry, Android, and iPhone) that reads your texts, Twitter feed, and emails aloud. You can even respond to incoming messages with voice commands and speech to text conversions. Check out the Drive Safe.ly demo between two phones in the video below. Drive Safe.ly is the flagship product of New Jersey based iSpeech, with 1 billion text conversations read to 8 million users! While the texting app may be saving lives, it's just the beginning - iSpeech is recruiting developers to expand the reach of their text to speech technology to every corner of the digital market.
Drive Safe.ly works pretty much how you think it would. Download the app to your mobile, enter your account information, fire it up, and you're good to go. Blackberry users even have a single touch launch for when they're in the car. Once you're underway, Drive Safe.ly will read you your incoming text messages (or email or tweets) and allow you to respond with voice commands and speech to text. There are 40 different voices to choose from representing 25 different languages! (I recommend the UK English female, it's delightful.) You can try out the Drive Safe.ly app for free with limited features, or get the advanced package for $4/month or $12/year. The following demo gives an honest look at what the technology looks like in action:
I tested Drive Safe.ly on my iPhone 3Gs a bit, and I have to say it's pretty good. Not perfect, mind you, just pretty good. The automated voice is pleasant to listen to, and handles inflection (i.e. when reading a question) fairly well. Drive Safe.ly was About.com's "clear winner" for 2011 Best Blackberry App for the office, and has received positive reviews from Mashable, TechCrunch and other sites. However, I recommend you try out the free version before buying - as with so many speech to audio applications, everyone is going to have a different opinion about how well it works. Personally, while I liked the text to speech I found the speech to text conversion an absolute disaster. To be fair, I've had that same problem with every other program I've ever tried. Computers just don't seem to like my accent (or maybe I need to take the marbles out of my mouth. Either way).
Luckily, Drive Safe.ly is just one of many mobile applications coming from iSpeech. They have a caller ID reader (free demo on Blackberry and Android), and a voice translator (free demo for Blackberry). Coming soon they'll have an app that makes you sound like Barack Obama, another that reads a variety of news feeds, and a dictation program. Outside of mobile platforms, iSpeech also has several web-based text to speech services, including automated creation of podcasts for bloggers, personal document conversion, and teaching assistance - all available in a variety of languages and accents. Collectively, iSpeech's library of text-audio solutions is fairly comprehensive.
And it's probably about to get much bigger. iSpeech's APIs have already garnered the interest of several developers (some with partnered apps) and the company is actively recruiting developers with its new SDK. While their text to speech and speech to text isn't mind-blowing, it is good. Combine that with a very reasonable price structure for developers using the API ($0 for mobile, $0.005/word for web), and I think iSpeech has the potential to attract a lot of interest. With enough developers, we could be seeing a rush of cheap (or free) text-audio mobile apps in the next year or so based on iSpeech technology.
With 1 billion texts read, 8 million or so users, and a growing suite of applications under development, iSpeech is helping to finally fulfill the decades of promises made by early text to speech. It's not alone in the effort, big names like Google are making similar inroads with apps like the Chrome speech API, Conversation Mode translator, and voice search. Considering the large numbers of competitors in this field, I'm fairly convinced there could be an explosion in the industry in the next few years - a wide range of innovative applications finally pushing text to speech from semi-aggravating novelty to trusted mainstream technology available on every platform.
To celebrate that possibility, I'll leave you with a Singularity Hub first. Below is a text to speech version of this article. Creation and embedded HTML code courtesy of the free demo for iSpeech's blog to podcast conversion service. Enjoy:
[image, video, and audio credits: iSpeech]
[sources: iSpeech, About.com Mobile Office]