The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) is to launch a Talking Books catalogue using speech technology.
The charity is turning the catalogue into a speech-based system so that its members can choose from more than 15,000 audio books and order them over the phone.
In addition to existing services, members will be able to use the speech recognition system to sort through books by author, genre and book name.
Each description will come with a spoken summary so members can make a better decision on what book to choose.
The phone catalogue will link to the back-end ordering and delivery systems to streamline the service and speed up the time it takes for books to arrive.
Steve Tyler, policy and ICT access manager at the RNIB, said: "Until now there has not been a sensible way to deliver a catalogue to members.
"We've relied on volunteers going out to visit the people and a helpline; as a result we've previously had to limit the number of people accessing Talking Books due to funding.
"The new phone service allows more people to access material, select their own books and get them quicker. We want to get the Amazon element and provide the benefits of our web services to those that don't have a PC."
Eckoh Technologies, which designed and built the system for the RNIB, said it would also offer personalisation so members can be notified of book releases that might be of particular interest to them.
Under the three-year agreement, Eckoh Technologies is also developing a voice-based shopping portal offering more than 900 specialist products, including talking toasters and clocks.
The voice portal will allow RNIB members to hear what a product does, how much it costs, and then add them to their shopping basket.
The RNIB's phone-based systems are currently being trialled and are expected to launch in June 2004.
The service will also incorporate ScanSoft's speech recognition tools and Rhetorical's text-to-speech system.
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