The voice on a hand held bandwagon gathers speed

INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOITEQ on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware says VoiteQ, a leading supplier of of voice-directed supply chain solutions. David Stanhope (pictured right), the company's CEO speaks out.

Voice picking technology in the warehouse is a proven and highly successful technology. It is simple to use, liked by operatives, delivers 99.99 per cent picking accuracy rates and gives return on investment in just months rather than years.

However, some adopters of voice have chosen unproven voice solutions and failed to get value for money and regretted their investment in voice. Indeed a number of major organisations have been driven to change their voice solution due to an initial poor technology choice.

It is not the voice recognition solution itself that is to blame but the sale of inappropriate hardware for the task in question and apparently low-budget, one-size-fits-all solutions that can be the root of the problem. Traditional radio frequency (RF) suppliers are under considerable pressure to avoid losing market share and are adding voice to their range of services. But in some cases the devices chosen may be inappropriate to meet the customers needs.

Voice sophistication

Voice software can be implemented on any Windows CE device, whether it is a dedicated wearable voice computer, a rugged hand held PDA or even a mobile phone. The question does not lie with the quality of voice software but with the capabilities of the hardware on which it is installed.

Voice technology is proven to give best results in a rapid picking operation when used on a hands-free, eyes-free device linked to a headset. It is the quality of the audio that is key; it is vital that the device can recognise the operatives voice first time, every time, regardless of language or accent.

Voice picking on a hand-held device has been around for a long time and with certain devices it is proven to be successful. But worryingly in a number of circumstances voice has been implemented on inappropriate hand-held devices delivering wholly unsatisfactory results.

Hands-free, eyes-free versus hand held

There is a market for voice on a hand-held device where multimodal interaction is necessary. However, not all hand helds are adept at handling the audio requirements of high-quality voice recognition in a rapid pick, noisy environment such as a warehouse. But voice on a hand held was never originally intended to be used for high volume, high density picking in a warehouse environment and in many instances deploying a one-size fits all hand-held RF solution will deliver sub-standard voice performance with poor accuracy and recognition of voice and slow speed of response.

Many people believe cost saving is a driving factor when investing in a voice solution on a hand-held device. Whilst the cost of a hand held will certainly be much less than a hands-free, eyes-free device, the hand-held device will not include the software required to run the voice application, so once that price is added in the price differential should be comparatively small. Initially this may be a cost saving, but, in the longer term, return on investment will actually be slower.

Vendors under fire

Voice is increasingly being seen as a must have technology for the warehouse replacing hand-held terminals. As a result the traditional RF suppliers are fighting hard not to lose their share of the market to voice and are starting to push voice on hand helds. In doing so some suppliers are carrying out questionable certification practices.

I am increasingly sceptical about the number of hand-held devices which have been certified to work with voice. Any Windows CE device can run the software but I do not believe that the majority have been tested to a high enough standard within a working warehouse environment. They may not be able to filter background noise, cope with changes in the operatives voice level or give an audio output to the user that is loud enough in a noisy warehouse environment. Loose and faulty phone jacks on the device are also a common complaint causing crackling and feedback which may be disastrous to normal operations.

The recent decision by a major voice provider to certify a wide range of hand held devices by a range of suppliers is one that has certainly raised eyebrows within the industry. It is very hard to believe that all devices will have the level of audio capability to deliver an acceptable level of quality,

Ultimately it is the warehouses and distribution centres who could be losing out. A number of companies have had to acknowledge that they do need a dedicated voice terminal and that voice on certain hand helds has not worked.

Voice on a hand held does most certainly work where the audio capabilities of the unit are up to the job, but when purchasing a voice solution warehouse managers must make tough decisions. It is tempting if they have always been tied to a particular RF supplier for all their RF requirements to just go for their voice-enabled hand-held solution, but they should seriously investigate if those providers have access to hardware suitable for their voice requirements.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOITEQ on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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