Making voice more accessible with OSS
The CSIR’s Meraka Institute has developed an open source interactive voice response (IVR) designer for Asterisk called DialogPalette which it hopes will make IVRs more locally and culturally relevant.
Existing interactive voice response systems are currently not satisfactory, believes Meraka. In addition, the cost of commercial telephony-based systems and related training is often beyond the financial means and skills capacity of communities.
Meraka’s Francois Aucamp, the software developer responsible for DialogPalette, says: “The flexibility of this visual authoring or design tool makes it easy to use and allows an information provider to design a telephony-based information service to localised specifications.” Aucamp points out that it is intuitive and focuses on logical intent rather than implementation details. Voice prompts for various phases can be recorded. Templates guide the designer in achieving the optimum design, with learning acquired through the activity.
DialogPalette is part of the OpenPhone project, which aims to make development and deployment of telephony-based applications accessible to all South Africans. Telephony-based systems have become synonymous with call centres and public information systems. However, free and natural access to information of local relevance presupposes easy accessibility, culturally appropriate interfaces with local languages, and ease of use — even for those who are not familiar with computers.
The advantages of DialogPalette make it an ideal application in MobilEd, a mobile information and communications technology initiative for education, which employs cell phones. It is also being used in the Meraka Institute’s text-to-speech research aimed at providing auditory information.
DialogPalette has been released as open source software on SourceForge and can be freely downloaded and used on a desktop computer. It runs on the Asterisk Open Source PBX, which is also freely available on SourceForge with an installation guide. Asterisk supports Voice over Internet Protocol, which obviates the need for fixed telephone lines.
Both industry and non-governmental organisations have shown a keen interest in DialogPalette, says Meraka.