Bluetooth headsets get talkative

NEW YORK (AP) - Bluetooth headsets, the tiny earpieces that make people look like they're talking into thin air when they're on their cell phones, have been a success story despite often being maddeningly difficult to use.

They have tiny, unlabeled buttons, and usually only communicate to the user with a single indicator light. Getting a headset to "pair," or connect, with a phone can be frustrating when the manual isn't handy.

Silicon Valley company Sensory Inc. has developed an easier way to control Bluetooth headsets: talking to them.

Using a prototype from Sensory this week, an AP reporter was able to pair a headset with his phone by holding down a button on the headset and saying "Pair mode." The headset responded that it was going into pair mode, and later confirmed that it was connected, all in a friendly female voice.

Similarly, the headset will read out the number of an incoming call and ask if the user wants to accept it. A "yes" or "no" answer will suffice.

Privately held Sensory is a veteran designer of speech synthesis and recognition chips that are used in toys and other gadgets, but it makes neither headsets nor the chips that go into them. What the company has done is design an add-on blueprint for Bluetooth chips, which will be available through CSR PLC, a British company that is a leading supplier of designs for Bluetooth chips.

That means chipmakers can create Bluetooth chips that also perform speech recognition, adding very little to the cost, space and battery power needed to add the feature to headsets, according to Todd Mozer, Sensory's chief executive.

"Headsets are a perfect platform for speech recognition," Mozer said. "There's no room for a display, no room for a lot of knobs."

No manufacturer has announced headsets using this technology yet, but Mozer expects it to happen soon.

Mozer said headsets using the technology should be able to understand the user in most situations where a phone can be in use. Ambient noise inside a moving car won't be a problem, for instance, but talk radio or a nearby conversation could throw it off.

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