Paws up for the original Rex

A lot of people probably saw the announcement that speech tech developer Wizzard Software is entering its product Rex, the talking prescription bottle, in the competition for Best Embedded Solution at the 2004 Fourth Annual Speech Solutions Awards sponsored by Speech Technology Magazine.

Rex is a “self-contained, disposable prescription bottle that uses text-to-speech technology to read the medication information and instructions in a very natural computer generated voice.” It is designed to help blind and cognitively impaired users avoid making mistakes with their prescription drugs.

What the story did not say is why on earth Wizzard’s device was baptised Rex. Isn’t it an archetypal dog’s name, after all? Well, yes – and thereby hangs a tail. In 1922, the Elmwood Button Co. for some reason developed a one-off toy dog that recognized its own name. According to this source, “Rex was a celluloid dog with an iron base held in its kennel by an electromagnet against the force of a spring. Current energizing the magnet flowed through a metal bar which was arranged to form a bridge with 2 supporting members. This bridge was sensitive to 500 cps acoustic energy which vibrated it, interrupting the current and releasing the dog. The energy of 500 cps contained in the vowel of ‘rex’ was enough to trigger the device when the dog’s name was called.” If Wizzard did in fact know about good old Rex, why did they use it to name a device that offers speech production rather than speech recognition?

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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