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When Automation Talks Back

Beckhoff have produced a system which will allow your industrial machines to talk to you - or, at least to 'listen' and respond to what you are saying. Much like Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri, the Beckhoff TwinCAT Speech system will enable automation systems to receive and respond to verbal cues.

Beckhoff have already premiered TwinCAT Vision - image processing software which can give automation systems certain 'visual' abilities. Also on the market is Beckhoff's TwinCAT Runtime software, which aims to make systems more 'intelligent'.

Coupled with TwinCAT Speech, these existing systems will allow users to communicate on an increasingly 'human' level with their automation systems. When two humans talk face to face with one another, we ourselves are the 'interfaces' by which we interact. As technology like TwinCAT Speech and TwinCAT Vision progress, this will increasingly become the case for human/machine interaction. Rather than having to go to a machine interface to communicate with automation systems, human operators will be able to verbally request information, issue instructions, or be informed of faults from anywhere within the system's audiovisual range.

Unveiled at the Hannover Fair, Beckhoff say that TwinCAT Speech can respond to queries and commands in 26 languages. There are various applications for this technology, including:

  • More convenient and efficient human/system interaction

  • Greater clarity of system communication. For example, rather than sounding one of several generic alarms and waiting for an operator to look at the interface to find out what's going on, systems with TwinCAT Speech could verbalise exactly the problem is (and potentially, what needs to be done) when something goes wrong.

Thus far speech input can only occur offline, using inbuilt functions of the PLC operating system. Speech output can occur offline or online. The online version will use Amazon's deep-learning text-to-speech service.

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