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Making Your Arduino Speak with Patrick Mitchell's Latest Shield

Gareth Halfacree

100+ Word Arduino Audio Shield

A recurring feature of science fiction has long been the replacement of human-computer interfaces with natural language processing. From the ship's computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation through to Iron Man's able digital assistant Jarvis, we've dreamed of a world where we can ditch the monitor and keyboard in exchange for having a conversation with devices. While science is rapidly catching up to fiction in devices like desktops and smartphones, the embedded sector - which could arguably benefit the most from losing bulky user interfaces - is lagging behind.

Enter the 100+ Word Audio Shield. Created by Canadian maker Patrick Thomas Mitchell, the shield does exactly what it says on the tin: connected to any Arduino Uno or layout-compatible board, the shield communicates with the Arduino via serial peripheral interface (SPI) over three pins, plus an additional pin for signalling when it's busy talking, and allows you to quickly string together sentences using the built-in 138-word vocabulary. Trigger the shield from the bundled library, and it'll read out whatever you've told it to say over a 3.5mm jack in what Patrick describes as a "charming British female, which I like to call 'Lucy.'"

The idea of using pre-programmed speech chips to string together sentences where the processing power to perform true speech synthesis isn't new: computers dating back to before the classic BBC Micro have had third-party speech add-ons, while readers of a certain age will likely remember the Texas Instruments Speak & Spell educational toy. With most microcontrollers sharing more in common with the 8-bit home computers of the 1980s than today's multi-gigahertz beasts, it's no surprise then to find Patrick taking much the same approach.

While Patrick has chosen to crowd-fund production of his board on Kickstarter, he's no newcomer: his previous projects include a high-quality audio recording and playback module, an LED cube kit, and even speech recognition hardware - the other half of the sci-fi talking computer puzzle. As a result, it's no surprise to see that Patrick has already hit his modest $700 funding goal with 29 days still to go.

The 100+ Word Arduino Shield is priced at $21 for a bare-bones DIY kit to $28 for a fully-assembled board (around £11 to £15) plus $7 for international shipping (around £4). Full details, as well as demonstration videos, are available on the Kickstarter campaign page.

Meet the (production-ready) "100+ Word" Arduino Audio Shield! With the help of an Arduino Uno and an audio player (Bose player/ stereo player / computer speakers / etc), you can create sentences or single word commands, so that your Arduino circuit offers verbal feedback! The voice used is a charming British female, which I like to call "Lucy". It is incredibly easy to use, and communicates with your Arduino via the SPI serial interface. Never used the SPI interface before? It is super easy, and I'll be providing code samples, so that you're off to the races as soon as your reward arrives!

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