ESS Technology

Electronic Speech Systems was a company in Berkeley, California that produced synthetic speech for home computer games like the Commodore 64. Within the hardware limitations of that time, ESS produced amazingly realistic sounding voices that often became the boilerplate for the respective games, sometimes being the only reason why people actually looked at and played an otherwise mediocre game. Anyone who ever played Ghostbusters on the c64 remembers "He slimed me!!", or Edwin Atombender's "Another visitor - Stay a while, stay forever!" in the original Impossible Mission.

History

ESS was founded in 1970, primarily with the purpose to capitalize on the research in electronic speech synthesis by Professor Forrest Mozer, a space physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Mozers technique did not only produce very realistic sounding speech, it also required very little RAM, a sparse and expensive commodity at that time. Professor Mozers advanced compression algorhithms (secret and patented, but apparently an early form of [psychoacoustic compression Psychoacoustics] reduced the memory footprint of speech about a hundred-fold, so one second of speech would require 90 to 625 bytes per second. With ESS-speech, samples that would require almost all of the 64 kilobyte memory of the Commodore 64 were so small, that the entire game fit into the RAM along with it, without loading from disk.

In 1994, Forrest Mozer's son Todd founded Sensory Inc., specializing in speech recognition and speech/sound synthesis. Sensory produced the first commercial speech recognition and synthesis integrated circuit in the mid-90s, building on the earlier experience in ESS, where Todd had also worked. Nowadays their chips are used in products from Sony, JVC, Mitsubishi and Toshiba, ranging from toys like Furby, Scamps, I-Cybie and Amazing Amanda to handsfree car phones, remote controls, alarm clocks and car stereos. Sensory's latest technology called "Doc" produces highly realistic lip movement on a software avatar, a technique that will probably be the standard in MMORPGs in the not too distant future.

Forrest Mozer continues his research work at the University of California, these days as Associate Director of Space Sciences. He was awarded EGU Hannes Alfven Medallist 2004 for his work in electrical field measurement and space plasma and also was involved in building the microphone to record sounds from the Mars Lander.