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Until now, voice-guided control of machines has been considered too error-prone for everyday use in industrial production. This could now change, because the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT in Oldenburg has developed a solution that works robustly even in the noisy environment of a factory floor and thus enables reliable control of machines with voice commands. Employees can choose to use a wireless headset, a stationary microphone or, in the future, a smart hearable for voice input, which is currently being developed at the Institute's Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology Division HSA. The new technology uses a combination of directional microphones and effective noise cancelling to almost completely block out disturbing ambient noise.

Reduced walking distances and free hands

Marvin Norda, project manager "Voice Controlled Production" at Fraunhofer IDMT, says: "For the first time, our technology enables the robust and at the same time intuitive control of machines in production by voice commands. For manufacturing companies, this means improved efficiency and reduced costs." There should also be advantages for employees. On the one hand, the touch-free operation of the machines is safe and hygienic for people, and on the other hand, walking distances are shortened when employees can control several machines by means of mobile voice input, even from a distance. In addition, they can use their free hands to position a workpiece in the work area, for example, while simultaneously giving the robot instructions such as "lower your arm" or "grasp the workpiece".

Efficient error prevention

According to the developers, control by voice command is more efficient than with a control panel or a touch panel, because the cumbersome and error-prone clicking through convoluted menu structures gives way to direct voice commands with simple commands. "Depending on the application, the speech recognition masters hundreds of individual commands and is speaker-independent. New or modified commands are quickly added and trained," Norda adds. In all of this, the scientists from Oldenburg benefit from their many years of experience and expertise in researching and developing audio technologies and speech recognition software, which also benefits the more than 50 member companies of the industry working group "Audio Technology for Intelligent Production" (AiP) initiated by Fraunhofer IDMT in Oldenburg.

Type of integration follows customer requirements

"We develop customisable system solutions for industrial customers. The voice control can be configured tailor-made to their respective needs and implemented quickly," Norda promises. Depending on the initial situation and following the customer's wishes, the speech recognition software can be integrated both via the cloud and on the company server. The use of a mini-PC and even direct integration into the programmable logic controller (PLC) of a machine could also be realised without any problems.

Live demonstration at HANNOVER MESSE

The solution, which was funded by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture and the Volkswagen Foundation, is now ready for the market and is already being tested by some industrial customers. Interested parties can also take a closer look at the system at HANNOVER MESSE 2023, where it will be presented to a wide audience for the first time by experts from Fraunhofer IDMT. There, visitors can experience the technology and its possibilities live at the Fraunhofer stand in Hall 16, Stand A12, using a voice-controlled milling machine as an example.