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Voice commands control machines even in noisy factories

27 March, 2023

German researchers claim to have developed a way to control industrial machines reliably using voice commands, even in noisy factories. The researchers, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) in Oldenburg, say that using intuitive voice commands will allow shopfloor personnel to keep both hands free and to work more efficiently.

In the past, using speech to control machines in manufacturing has been considered too error-prone, and has rarely been used.

“For the first time, our technology is enabling people to control machines in manufacturing using voice commands in a reliable, intuitive way,” says Marvin Norda, project manager for voice-controlled production at Fraunhofer IDMT. “For manufacturing companies, this means increased efficiency and lower costs.”

Users speak into a wireless headset or a stationary microphone. Loud ambient noises are tuned out almost entirely using a combination of directional microphones and a noise-cancelling system.

One advantage of the technology is that it allows contactless operation of machines, thus ensuring safety and hygiene. Also, when employees have to control multiple machines, it reduces how far they need to walk – they can use a mobile device to issue voice commands to the equipment from a distance.

Users also have both hands free, allowing them to position a workpiece in the work area, for example, while simultaneously giving a robot an instruction such “grip the workpiece” or “lower the arm”.

The researchers argue that controlling a machine using voice commands is more efficient than using a control panel or touchscreen. Clicking through nested menu structures is cumbersome and error-prone, unlike direct voice commands using simple instructions.

The voice command technology has been used to control machines such as this milling machining centre
Image: Fraunhofer IDMT / Anika Bödecker

“The speech-recognition technology can handle hundreds of individual commands depending on the application and is not limited to a particular voice,” Norda explains. “New or modified commands can be quickly added and trained into the system.

“We are developing adaptable systems for industrial customers,” he adds. “The voice control system can be configured to meet their individual needs and put into operation quickly.”

The speech recognition software can reside in the cloud or on a local server. It is also possible to incorporate a PC or integrate the system into a PLC.

The technology, which has been funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony and the Volkswagen Foundation, is currently being tested by pilot users.

Fraunhofer IDMTTwitter  LinkedIn 

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