Android texting app requires no hands

StartTalking, free from AdelaVoice, lets users speak an SMS and send it without touching anything

A free Android application to be unveiled on Thursday at the Mobilize conference in San Francisco will let mobile phone users send and receive text messages without touching or looking at the phone.

AdelaVoice, a Boston startup, developed the StartTalking app primarily to solve the problem of distracted driving, according to Chairman and CEO Chris Hassett. Texting while driving has been linked to driver distraction and accidents and is illegal in some places.

To use SMS (Short Message System) with StartTalking, the user wakes up the phone by calling it by a pre-assigned name, then speaks the message and commands the phone to send it. StartTalking guides the user through the process with computerized voice commands and reads back the message as the software has understood it so the user can confirm it is correct.

AdelaVoice, founded just this year, claims StartTalking is the only text-messaging application that can be used completely without the user's hands or eyes. It can operate with the phone's screen off and can work with a headset or in speakerphone mode. It doesn't require an in-car hands-free system to use. The idea is that a driver can send and receive messages without even looking away from the road.

There have been other attempts to convert text-messaging to voice. Earlier this year, Google introduced a texting function as part of its Voice Actions for Android lineup, but that tool requires the user to tap a screen button to start Voice Actions and view the message to edit it.

Another feature of StartTalking, called SVS (Short Voice Service), can record and send spoken messages. The voice message comes to the recipient as an attachment to a standard text message. In the future, AdelaVoice will allow voice messages to be sent using MMS (Multimedia Message System), Hassett said. AdelaVoice plans to expand StartTalking so it can be used to compose e-mail, calendar entries and social networking updates.

StartTalking is based on AdelaVoice Conversation Services, a software platform the includes components both on the phone and in a computing cloud. Using open APIs (application programming interfaces), third parties such as social networking services could extend their applications to use the StartTalking voice interface.

AdelaVoice uses Google's speech recognition engine through a partnership. Any third-party application that works with Voice Actions for Android will also work with the StartTalking interface.

The free version of StartTalking includes texting, voice dialing and navigation system commands. Other features will work on a premium version, which AdelaVoice expects to introduce in the first quarter of next year for a one-time cost of less than US$20, Hassett said.

The app runs on Android 2.0 and higher versions and is available immediately in an open beta test, which AdelaVoice expects to conclude by year's end.

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