Remembering the Speak and Spell
Just a little more than thirty years ago, Texas Instruments brought us an important development that would change many a childhood, the Speak and Spell.
Despite it's humble size, The Speak and Spell played an important role in Speech History. It was one of the first highly accurate and widely available text-to-speech products, really one of the first practical applications of speech synthesis for a consumer market.
The toy was a direct outgrowth of Texas Instrument's bizarre 1970s experiments in speech synthesis. The world had just seen man create the tech required to reproduce human speech with tuned voices stored on ROMs. Seeing the potential of those speech fruits, Paul Breedlove, a TI engineer, began development of the Speak & Spell in 1976 with a $25,000 budget. Yes, even then it seems that the world callously and stupidly turned a cold shoulder to speech. Breedlove, however, would be vindicated. Within two short years, the Speak & Spell was flying off the 1978 shelves.
Breedlove's completed proof incorporated TI's trademarked Solid State Speech technology, which stored full words in solid state the way calculators of those halcyon 1970s days stored numbers. The Speak & Spell even had a slot for "expansion module" cartridges, which could be inserted to beef up the onboard vocabulary.
The Speak and Spell had its limitations, but had great staying power. The machine was produced for nearly twenty years and saw many improvements over its 1978-1992 run. Its vacuum florescent display was replaced with liquid crystal, it was given a membrane keyboard (which in turn was changed from ABC to a standard QWERTY layout), and it saw several releases in different languages.
Click this link to learn more about the Speak and Spell from Wikipedia.