Backchat from your electrical appliances

SR technology is finding its way into everything from phones to freezers

It is rare for computer people to get excited by domestic appliances. But one of the big attractions at this year’s CeBIT trade show in Hanover was Hermine, the talking washing machine.

Hermine understands a few hundred words, and even has a basic sense of humour. It squeals in mock horror when told to wash a baby’s nappies, and suggests switching to beer when asked to clean red wine stains.

The device is a prototype, built by Siemens and German company Speech Experts. But it demonstrates how speech recognition (SR) presents an attractive answer to the problem of data entry for devices without keyboards, or embedded devices, such as handheld computers, mobile phones, or in-car computer.