Petite electronic talking typewriter. (evaluation) Stephen B. Gray.
Petite Electronic Talking Typewriter
After several scattered articles on consumer products built around microprocessors, it's time to get organized, and settle down to an irregular series on the subject.
The three previous articles are: "Heathkit/Thomas Electronic Organ Kit' (June 1980, p. 54), "Electronic Music in Small Packages' (September 1981, p. 294; about the Casiotone M10 keyboard instrument), and "The Great Awakening' (December 1981, p. 105; about the General Electric 7-4880 programmable digital clock radio).
There will be more like this one, but not every month, nor at any regular interval. One problem is that although many consumer products containing microprocessors are on the market, many manufacturers of such products don't want to reveal what goes on inside their widgets, not even as little as a block diagram, without which an article like this would be reduced to a long new product item.
The point of this series is to show what microprocessors can do other than serve as the basis for computers, and to give some idea of how the products operate other than on the overly simple basis of "press this button and that happens.' And although a talking typewriter represents a relatively simple use of a microprocessor, it is one of many products that couldn't be manufactured today without inexpensive silicon chips.
Petite Electronic Talking Typewriter
At first glance, the Petite Electronic Talking Typewriter looks very much like an ordinary children's typewriter with a blue plastic case and red plastic keys. But if you look closely, you'll see two special blue keys, FIG and LEVEL, and also a section to the right of the typewriter itself, with ON and OFF buttons, a battery compartment, and the words "Talking Typewriter' and "solid state.'
Push the ON button, and after a short musical fanfare, a British-accented male voice says, "Hello, this is your Petite Talking Typewriter.' Press any red key, and not only will the character be printed on paper, the voice will say the name of the letter, from A through Z. Press the FIG key, and you can print the numbers 0 through 9, and characters such as $ 1/4 1/2 &. But only the numbers will be spoken; the others produce a beep on the speaker.
That's only the beginning; the machine has a stored vocabulary for teaching children how to spell.
Press the LEVEL key, and the voice says, "Level One selected,' pauses, then asks, "Can you spell CAT?' If you spell it correctly, key by key, the voice responds with "That is correct,' and asks you to spell a second word.
If you spell CAT incorrectly, the voice says, "Wrong. Try again.' You get one more chance, and if you are wrong the second time, the voice says, "That is incorrect.
The correct spelling of CAT is C . . . A . . . T.' Then it gives you a second word to spell, such as day, two, or milk.
If you don't understand the word you are supposed to spell, press the key to the left of the LEVEL key, and the word will be repeated.
Press the LEVEL key a second time, and the voice says "Level Two selected,' and gives a longer word, such as mother, friend, or pocket. Level Three has even longer words, such as achieve, business, and typewriter.
After you have tried spelling ten words, the typewriter announces your score and goes on to a second set of ten words.
To listen to the entire vocabulary, hold down the FIG key and the spacebar at the same time, and the voice will recite the entire list of 160 words.
"When you are able to spell all the available words in my memory,' the colorful manual says, "then we can consider moving on with an additional memory module available from your toy shop.' This plug-in ROM slides onto the end of a printed circuit board located at the forward end of the battery compartment.
The 32-page manual, printed in four colors, is very good, with many illustrations, large type, and all the details. It provides a drawing of the machine with callouts that identify all the exterior parts by name, shows how to insert paper, how to insert the four C-cell batteries, and tells exactly what each type of key does.
The manual notes that "if. . . you don't make any entry for 10 seconds, then I'll remind you of the word you are attempting by repeating it. If you still don't make an entry, I'll assume you have gone for dinner and switch myself off after about 2 1/2 minutes.
The manual ends with instuctions on how to change the ribbon cartridge, how to lay out a letter, a list of all the words in each lever, and suggestions for various games to play with the machine, such as taking turns with another person to see who can go the longest without making a mistake.
The box in which the Talking Typewriter is packed has some information printed on it that appears nowhere else: The typewriter may be operated by a six-volt AC adapter. It is recommended for children of four and up. The keys print in lower case in the United Kingdom. The ribbon prints over 30,000 characters.
Designed for both the U.S. and Canadian markets, the box is printed in both English and French. Thus the typewriter is also called "La Machine a Ecrire Parlante Electronique.'
How It Works
The Petite Talking Typewriter is based on a variation of the Texas Instruments "Speak and Spell' voice-synthesizer module (also called a speech generator) made in Hong Kong under a license from TI.
The block diagram is very simple. When the machine is switched on, the microprocessor scans the keyboard several thousand times a second to see which key has been pressed. (No information is available on what type of microprocessor is used.)
When a key is pressed, the micro-processor decides which letter has been selected and signals the voice-synthesizer chip. The microprocessor also keeps track of the user's spelling mistakes.
The voice synthesizer asks the ROM memory for the combination of bits required for the letter or number selected at the keyboard; the ROM contains the 160-word vocabulary in the form of 128,000 bits of encoded speech data.
The synthesizer then sends the group of bits though a digital-to-analog converter, and the waveform is amplified and sent to a 2 1/4 speaker that reproduces the sound of the letter or number.
The synthesizer also contains a clock that times the speech; delays are inserted between letters and words to space them out and thus make the phrases sound more lifelike.
Where It's Made
Press the key for the last letter of the alphabet, and the British-accented voice says, "zed,' not "zee,' because the Electronic Talking Typewriter is made in Nottingham, England, by Byron International, manufacturers of toys and an inhaler device for asthmatics.
Byron is a division of a highly diversified $450 million conglomerate, Dobson Park Industries Ltd., also of Nottingham.
The Talking Typewriter is marketed in the U.S.A. by Wesco International, which manufactured toys in the U.S.A. for many years, but no longer does. Wesco's first relationship with Byron was as the U.S. distributor for its products; it is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Byron.
Wesco markets other toys, including a talking cash register, several sewing machines, three children's typewriters, and the Sindy line of dolls.
According to the Wesco catalog, "the real benefit' of the Talking Typewriter "to the child and the parent is that they can see the mistakes typed before them, and they actually have a hard copy.' The catalog notes that the Word Challenger add-on vocabulary unit adds another 140 words, and that it "gives six levels of difficulty and an amazing choice of commonly misspelled words, teasers and mind bogglers.'
The Electronic Talking Typewriter was $129.95 last Christmas at F.A.O. Schwartz in New York City and has been offered at Toys-R-Us for $79.95. If you can't find the typewriter in your area, it is available from Wesco International Inc. (2218 Enterprise Ave., Jackson, MI 49203) for $79.95.
Photo: Figure 1. The Petite Electronic Talking Typewriter is advertised as the world's first talking typewriter for children.
Photo: Figure 2. The Talking Typewriter prints fairly well, and has several characters not often found on small machines.
Photo: Figure 3. The block diagram for the Talking Typewriter is very simple, because the microprocessor and voice synthesizer perform many housekeeping functions that would otherwise require several more chips.
Products: Byron Petite Electronic Talking Typewriter (typewriter)