Cursive Out Loud: Dealing With Dragons

When we last left this broadening subject of handwriting, cursive, and moveable type, I was threatening to sing the praises of speech-to-text programs. To me, these seem like the summit of getting thoughts committed to what passes for paper these days.

A common thread in humanity’s tapestry is that we all walk around with so much going on in our heads, and no real chance to get it out stream-of-consciousness style without missing a word — until we start talking to each other. I don’t care what your English teacher told you — talking turns to writing quite easily; all it takes is a willingness to follow enough of the rules, and to record it all in a readable fashion.

But, alas! That suggests that linear thinking is not only possible, but that it’s easy and everyone else is already doing it. While that’s (usually) not true, simply thinking out loud can get you pretty far down the road in a lot of mental vehicles. You just have to record it all somehow. And if your end goal is to have the words typed out, why not skip the the voice recorder and go the speech-to-text route?

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The Voice Recognition Typewriter

Typewriters with voice recognition have existed for over one hundred years; they were called secretaries. Robots are taking all the jobs now, and finally dictation and typing is a job that can be handled by a computer. [Zip Zaps] used an old Smith Corona typewriter to automate the process of turning dictation into print. Like a secretary hunched over an anachronistic IBM Selectric in the first season of Mad Men, this robot will take dictation and accept the overt sexism of a 1960s Manhattan ad agency.

Instead of the machinations of a few biological actuators, this typewriter is controlled with an array of servos driven by Pololu Maestro servo controller. There are twelve servos that move a small actuator down onto the keys, and another twelve servos that move the others above the correct row of the keyboard. The carriage return lever is actuated by a stepper motor, linear rail, and giant plastic lever.

While a robot that can use a typewriter is impressive, the real trick is getting it to take dictation. [Zip Zaps] used the built-in voice recognition found in Windows for this, streaming characters over a serial port to the Arduino-based electronics.

Does it work? Yes, surprisingly it does. Is it useful? Well, typewriters naturally have a cleaner, more analog tone about them, and you can’t replicate the typing experience of an old Smith Corona typewriter with a digital format. This build is just the natural extension of what digital electronics are capable of these days, and we look forward to seeing someone with this amazing device in our local Starbucks.

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