- Project: VOICES: VOIce-based Community-cEntric mobile Services for social development
- Summary: Explore and develop voice-based Web access through simplest phones and by rural population in West Africa.
- Partners: Web Foundation, W3C/ERCIM, Orange, TNO, VU, CRS4,CSIR, Sahel Eco, Ecole Superieure Multinationale des Telecommunications, Fondation Merieux, Portugal Telecom Innovation, North West University
- Status: Started 1st January 2011 and running till end of June 2013.
- Funding: VOICES is an EU-funded project through the European Union’s 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7)
There are now more than 5 billions of mobile phones in the World, and more than 90% of the World population is covered by a mobile signal. Billions of people have therefore in their hand not only a person-to-person communication appliance, but they also have a device that can host some types of ICT services.
In that regard, There is a widespread agreement that ICT services have the potential to play a major role in furthering social and rural development in developing economies such as Africa. Indeed, providing basic social services (such as Health, Education, Business, Government, etc ) to rural communities and under-privileged populations is of major importance to improve people’s lives, and to sustain development. Using ICTs would be the easiest and possibly only way to develop and deploy those services. It is therefore critical to work towards finding solutions by realizing the potential of this digital opportunity.
In the last few years, few success stories have demonstrated the power of simple mobile services to address some major development challenges. However, most of these success stories have been based on SMS technology, which is available on all phones, but hardly usable by people with low literacy, or speaking a language that is not supported by phone keyboard. The aim of the VOICES project is not explore a new direction, voice-based services, that have the potential to overcome some of the limitations of other technologies such as SMS.
The VOICES project will tackle four particular dimensions related to voice technologies:
- Platform and Toolbox: Designing and implementing a free and open source platform with essential functionality for building and delivering voice-based services
- Business Models: Identifying relevant and applicable business models for such services
- Language Support: Designing new methodologies to build low-cost high quality text-to-speech and speech recognition engines
- Capacity Building: training entrepreneurs and students on how to create such services and make them self-sustainable
All These elements will be tested and validated on two pilot projects in Agriculture and Health. These pilots will be deployed in Senegal (health) and Mali (agriculture). The agriculture pilot is part of the W4RA initiative.The capacity building part will be implemented following the same principles as the ones we have defined in the Mobile Entrepreneur in Africa project.
Web Foundation Efforts:
The role of the Web Foundation in this project is to:
- Lead the overall project from a scientific and administrative point of view.
- Lead the work related to capacity building and the setup of a mobile lab in Senegal