Votrax International, Inc. (originally the Vocal division of Federal Screw Works), or just Votrax, was a speech synthesis company located in the Detroit, Michigan area from 1971 to about 1996. It began as a division of Federal Screw Works from 1971 to 1973. In 1974, it was given the Votrax name (taken from the name of its first commercial product, the model VS4 "Votrax") and moved to Troy, Michigan and, in 1980, split off of its parent company entirely and became Votrax International, Inc., which produced speech products up until 1984.
In 1984, the company declared bankruptcy and restructured itself as a commercial phone/speech auto-answering systems company after downsizing much of the staff. It was somewhat successful in this field, and merged with Vynet Corp., a voice-recognition prompt pioneer, in 1987. It remained Votrax inc. until about 1992, when it was renamed to or otherwise merged with Vysion, Inc., a maker of security cameras and other related devices. It remained 'Vysion Inc.' until the company declared bankruptcy in June 1994 following a court battle patent litigation loss against PATCO inc., and from the remains of the old company, restructured itself as 'Maxxar' inc in 1995. Maxxar was acquired by Open Solutions, LLC (then Open Solutions, Inc.), on February 24th, 2004, and Open Solutions, LLC was acquired by Fiserv, Inc. on January 14th, 2013. Maxxar owned the rights to the Votrax name, but the trademark lapsed on March 11, 2016.
All the Votrax speech synthesizers owe their existence to the speech synthesizer design created in 1970 by Richard T. Gagnon. After coming up with a viable design scheme in his basement laboratory, Gagnon licensed it to Federal Screw Works, whom he was working for at the time, and they continued development of his original design. This became the "Vocal division of Federal Screw Works."
In 1984, Votrax either declared bankruptcy or came close to doing so, and restructured itself as a commercial phone-interface provider, and hence produced no new consumer products. The later commercial-only products are not listed on the below list because literature about these seems to have been of limited distribution and has not yet been found. During the restructuring, much of the existing staff was downsized off, including Tim Gargagliano and Kathryn F. Gargagliano, who along with two other former Votrax employees, Art Velthoven and Dale McDaniel, started Artic Technologies in 1984. Tim and Kate had earlier written an article about the SC-01 for BYTE magazine. In 1987, Votrax merged with Vynet Corp and the product lines of both companies were combined.
Votrax was responsible for designing and manufacturing several important early speech synthesizer back-ends, and several widely used integrated circuit phoneme synthesizers. Votrax produced speech backend modules and cards for various personal computers, and worked with the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to create an extensible speech frontend system. Votrax's speech technology was also used by 3rd parties in several arcade games, Gottlieb System 80 pinball machines, and talking terminals.
During the 1970s, Votrax produced a series of discrete speech synthesizers, with epoxy-coated boards to thwart people copying their designs. In 1980, they designed and manufactured an integrated circuit speech synthesizer called the SC-01. This IC proved very popular in the third party market, and was produced until at least 1984. It was succeeded by the somewhat more dynamic SC-02, also known as the SSI-263P. From the beginning of SC-02 production, Silicon Systems Inc. (now part of Texas Instruments) manufactured the SC-02 chip under the product number SSI-263P, and this was apparently later adopted as the official name of the IC. Votrax continued to intermittently sell SC-01-A and SC-02 synthesis chips, and Personal Speech System text to speech units until at least October, 1990.
Since early in its life, Votrax specialized in making phoneme-based speech synthesizers and text-to-speech algorithms. The popular United States Naval Research Laboratory, or "NRL" text-to-phoneme algorithm was developed by a collaboration between Votrax and the NRL in 1973. This algorithm and variants of it were used on a number of text-to-speech devices, such as the votrax type-n-talk, the votrax personal speech system, and the General Instruments CTS256A-AL2 text-to-allophone chip. A good rundown of the NRL algorithm can be found under reference.
M. D. Mcilroy used a "Votrax" branded "Federal Screw Works" synth, a single potted block, as the 'Screw Works' backend for the Unix 'speak' command on Unix V1/2/3/4 in 1972/1973. Details of the algorithm were later (1974) described in his paper "Synthetic English speech by rule", Bell Telephone Laboratories Computer Science Technical Report #14, which is available on his personal site's publications page.
List of products
- VS1 (prototype only, Gagnon's personal model)
- VS2 (prototype only)
- VS3 (prototype only)
- VS4 (first model sold by Federal Screw Works, was sold under the product name "Votrax")
- VS6 (design prototypes only)
- ML-1 (large rack-mount or standalone unit with four potted boards inside)
- ML-1ES (ML-1 with added Spanish-specific phonemes)
- SVA (first self-contained speech synthesizer, with a 6800 core running the NRL frontend)
- VSK (smallish potted module, used on an unmarked rs-232 carrier board, among other places. runs on +-12VDC.)
- VSL (smallish potted module, used on an Ohio Scientific expansion board, Model 567 among other places. runs on +-8VDC; almost identical to and interface compatible with VSK)
- CDS1 (emulation of SC-01 running on a mainframe)
- SC-01 (IC, very similar to VSL except all on one chip. Made as early as 49th week of '80, and as late as the 8th week of '81)
- VSM/1 (SC-01 based, has mc6800 running "voxOS")
- Votrax 'circuit cards' (SC-01 based)
- Speech PAC (SC-01 based) (also mentioned at )
- Type n' Talk
- SC-01-A (IC, internal ROM change of SC-01, Made as early as the 12th week of 1981, and as late as the 51st week of 1988)
- Type n' Talk (SC-01-A based later model)
- Personal Speech System (SC-01-A based)
- SC-02/SSI-263P (IC, Made as early as 3rd week of 1984, as late as 6th week of 1984)
- Votalker IB (IBM PC ISA card, SC-02 based)
- Votalker AP (Apple II card, SC-02 based)
- Votalker C64 (Commodore 64 cartridge, SC-02 based)
- SSI-263AP (bugfix of SSI-263P, made as early as 45th week of 1985 until as late as 35th week 1995, was rebadged in various ways, such as 'Artic 263')
- Votalker IB 2000 (Very Small Production Run), 6511 based software ISA card for IBM-PC.
- Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80 Speech Module (Slightly stripped down VSL, on a larger circuit board, transition filters are potted)
- Colorware's Real Talker voice synthesizer (SC-01) for the TRS-80 Color Computer
- Maryland Computer Services 'Total Talk' (Modified HP-2621 Terminal) (VSB + McIlroy algorithm)
- Automated Functions 'VERT' (VSB + McIlroy algorithm)
- Triformatlon System 'FSST-3' (Modified Zenith Z-19 Terminal) (VSA + NRL algorithm)
- IBM 'Audio Typing unit'
- Gottlieb Pinball Machines (SC-01)
- Midway Wizard of Wor Arcade machine (SC-01)
- Phonic Mirror 'Handy Voice' (SC-01)
- Microvox/Intex Talker (SC-01-A)
- Alien Group Voice Synthesizer
- Midway Gorf Arcade machine (SC-01)
- Gottlieb Reactor Arcade machine
- Gottlieb Q*bert Arcade machine
- Alpha Products 'VS100' (for TRS-80 Model III) (SC-01-A)
- Sweet Micro Systems Mockingboard Speech I and 'Sound/Speech I' (SC-01-A)
- Heathkit HERO 1 (ET-18) Robot Votrax SC-01 speech synthesizer.
- Artic technologies (several cards using SC-01-A and SC-02 and SSI-263AP, rebadged as "artic 263")
- US Patent 3,836,717 (32 phonemes, VS1/2 prototypes)
- US Patent 3,908,085 (64 phonemes, VS4/VS5/VS6)
- US Patent 4,128,737 (128 phonemes, ML-1 series)
- US Patent 4,130,730 (64 phonemes, VS6 series)
- US Patent 4,264,783 (64 phonemes, VS6 series)
- US Patent 4,301,328 (128 phonemes, ML-1 series)
- US Patent RE30,991 (reissue of 4,130,730)
- US Patent 4,532,495 (A speech encoding system, 4-bit DPCM Variant)
- US Patent 4,470,150 (64 phonemes, VS6 series)
- US Patent 4,433,210 (64 phonemes, SC-01)
- US Patent 4,829,573 (64 phonemes, Software Synthesizer using a different technology coded for a 6511 microprocessor (a Rockwell derivative of the MOS Technology 6502)
- International Patents CA1124865, CA1124866, CA1171179, DE2840596, CH625900
- "About Artic Technologies". Articannex.ws. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- Artic History Archived March 27, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- "Votrax Inc acquires Vynet Corp (1987/07/27) - Thomson Financial Mergers & Acquisitions". AlacraStore.com. 1987-07-27. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "VOTRAX INC reports earnings for Qtr to Sept 30 - Statistics - NYTimes.com". New York Times. 1987-11-19. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "NMAH | Smithsonian Speech Synthesis History Project". Americanhistory.si.edu. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Resume". Msu.edu. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Open Solutions Acquires Maxxar Corporation; Financial Services Provider Boosts Technology Offering With Acquisition of Interactive Voice Information Solutions Provider - Business Wire". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
- "Maxxar Corporation: Private Company Information - Bloomberg". Retrieved 2018-09-17.
- VOTRAX Brand - FindOwnerSearch
- BYTE.com Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Dale Grover. "SC-01A". Redcedar.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "product detail". AbleData. 2003-04-24. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Microvox". Members.tripod.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "AMSAT-NA Microsats - Participants". Amsat.org. 1995-01-19. Archived from the original on April 19, 2008. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Amateur Satellite Summary - DO-17". Amsat.org. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "The PDP-11 Unix Preservation Society". Minnie.tuhs.org. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Publications". Cs.dartmouth.edu. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "A voice response system for an office information system". Portal.acm.org. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Mark's Ohio Scientific Board Index". Osi.marks-lab.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Electronically Speaking: Computer Speech Generation" by John P. Cater -- ISBN 978-0-672-21947-4
- "Minspeak". Members.tripod.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Company detail". Abledata. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "SSI 263 Speech Chip - net.micro | Google Groups". 1985-03-21. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Product Detail". Abledata. 2003-04-24. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Colorware Real Talker manual (PDF)" (PDF).
- Colorware advertisement (December 1983). "'Real Talker' Hardware Voice Synthesizer". The Rainbow magazine. Falsoft inc. p. 235.
- David M. Stoffel Archived June 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- "Advances in Speech Synthesis". Web.inter.nl.net. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- Nov 6th 2008 1:30PM by Kelly Wilson (2008-11-06). "Q*Bert's Voice". Members.aol.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "Tandy Computers". Ripsaw.cac.psu.edu. 2009-08-08. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- "PC Mate Speech board". Web.inter.nl.net. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
- Gagnon's IEEE paper describing the basics behind 'votrax speech'
- DEC PDP-11 impmenentation of NRL algorithm
- Intelligibility comparison of Votrax VS6 and ML-1 versus MITalk and an LPC algorithm
- Office voice response system using a Votrax SVA
- NASA/Sensory Aids Foundation Blind Programmable Calculator using Votrax VS-6, 1977
- Rueter's ACM paper on APL programming a "Votrax" (VS4) unit
- Votrax SC-01-A connected to the internet: send your own phoneme data and hear it spoken
- Votrax ML-1 Reverse-engineering
- Votrax SC-02 datasheet cover
- BYTE magazine article by two Votrax Employees who later married, left the company in 1983 and along with a few other former Votrax employees started ARTIC Technologies
- Alternate version of one of the sources