Vocera Adds Push-to-Talk

By Vikki Lipset

February 18, 2004

The walkie-talkie feature isn't just for mobile phones.

Vocera Communications has upgraded its voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) system to include push-to-talk and text-to-speech capabilities.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company, which makes wearable voice "badges" that operate over an 802.11b wireless network, on Tuesday released a new version of its system software that adds several new features for both users and administrators. The most notable improvement is push-to-talk (PTT).

Previous versions of the software allowed users to broadcast messages to members of pre-defined groups, but they needed to issue a voice command first. In version 2.1, they can simply push the call button on their badge to speak to their group, or to respond to a broadcast message.

"It takes the instantaneous nature of the solution one step further," says Brent Lang, vice president of marketing at Vocera. "The call setup is literally the time it takes you to push the button. There's no voice interaction or dialing associated with it at all."

Users can only be active members of one group at a time, but Lang notes that they can easily switch from one group to another, and system administrators can set up an unlimited number of groups. The capability could be useful to supervisors who want to monitor various workgroups, he suggests.

Another new feature caters to the health care industry, which has been Vocera's bread and butter (Lang says about 65 percent of the company's business to date has been in this segment). With the help of new reseller partner Hill-Rom, Vocera has developed an integration module that works with nurse call systems in hospitals to allow patients to alert nurses directly when they need assistance.

When patients push a button at their bedside, a text message is sent to their nurse's Vocera badge. Thanks to new text-to-speech capability, the nurses can just say "Play text message" to hear the patient's request.

"This is really going to streamline the communication process within the hospital even further and allow patients to get urgent care and the clinicians to coordinate their activities more effectively," says Lang.

The module can be used for other applications as well, he adds. "There are lots of different kinds of environments where this idea of sending alarms and alerts and text messages to the badge would be very valuable." In a warehouse, for example, if a piece of equipment needed maintenance, it might automatically trigger an alert that would be sent to the foreman's badge.

In addition, Version 2.1 includes centralized server support, which allows network administrators to manage multiple sites from a single server. This reduces the overall hardware cost, Lang notes, since companies don't need to buy individual servers for each location. Also, with this feature, users can call colleagues at other sites on their badges.

Vocera has also added new licensing options to accommodate larger deployments. The new licenses restrict the number of badges that can be simultaneously logged onto the system rather than limiting the number of user profiles in the system database. Server software licenses start at $20,000 for a 75-seat users license.

Finally, the company has enhanced a feature introduced in the previous version of the software. Voice-initiated paging allows users to page someone outside of their network, and the recipient to call back directly to the Vocera badge. Lang says the original implementation was "a little bit difficult to set up and to use the [page] command." With the new version, everything is taken care of automatically.

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