Posts Tagged ‘Alexa’
March 11, 2020
For many years Sensory has been considered the de-facto standard for embedded wake words and voice control. In fact, our low power, small footprint TrulyHandsfree has shipped in billions of devices and apps around the globe. Sensory’s best in class accuracy has enabled us to be the only company offering wake word solutions approved by Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and LG, as well as international partners like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. With global smart speaker sales breaking records year over year, people are definitely getting more comfortable speaking to technology and this creates new opportunities. Savvy voice-first users now want the next wave of use cases that are more compelling than the typical smart speaker trivia, weather and music. While smart speakers are handy and for introducing the convenience afforded by a voice user interface, they aren’t good for actually getting things done. To really accomplish meaningful tasks, the entire Sensory team is excited to charge into the next phase of the voice user interface. A charge that is led by custom branded wake words and domain specific voice assistants.
Your Brand, Your Wake Word
Most voice industry insiders are familiar with the Sonos/Alexa story. Mom brings home a new Sonos One speaker and sets it up with Alexa for voice control. Every time the kids use it to check the weather, play some music, or hear the news, the conversation starts with “Alexa.” After a few weeks Mom asks, “how do you like that new Sonos speaker?” The kids answer in unison, “what Sonos speaker? Oh, you mean the Alexa speaker!” Enabling Alexa or Google to highjack your brand might seem like a good idea to sell a few more units, but it is not a good long-term strategy for building a brand. Unfortunately, Sonos learned the hard way, but your company doesn’t don’t have to. Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree provides companies with the means to create custom branded wake words that deliver accuracy and performance that is equal to or better than anything offered by the digital giants. Very soon you will hear about several high-profile brands, rolling out their custom wake words. Stay tuned for more on that!
Another business case to consider, what if Amazon and Google don’t want to support your specific use case? For example, a recent article in the Boston Globe explains how Amazon decided not to support LifePod and their quest to create a smart speaker tailored to the elderly. At first glance this may have seemed like a showstopper for LifePod, but actually it enabled them to create their own smart speaker solution, and they turned to Sensory to create the “Hello LifePod” branded wake word.
Using Voice to Get It Done
More than just a custom wake word, Sensory is also supporting clients to create domain specific voice assistants. How does this compare to the typical smart speaker? Consider the smart speaker as a generalist. It can do many, many things, but doesn’t excel at any particular task. A domain specific assistant focuses on one task or a collection of tasks and is specifically designed to accomplish these tasks. To drive the point home, a smart speaker is a mile wide and an inch deep. A domain specific voice assistant is a mile deep and an inch wide. For example, when Midea MCA, a global leader in microwave appliances, wanted a voice-controlled microwave, they didn’t need it to play music or talk about the weather. The Sensory team leveraged our TrulyNatural embedded speech recognition and created a custom language model to support microwave cooking tasks. The end product is a specialist. A voice-controlled microwave oven that knows how to cook potatoes, pop popcorn, reheat coffee, melt butter, soften ice cream, defrost vegetables and much more. All by voice. By being a specialist, this voice enabled microwave provides users with advanced features that are usually hidden behind confusing menus and semi-secret button press sequences.
“We firmly believe in ‘consumer-first technology’ and strive to maintain a technological advantage through teamwork and innovation. By teaming up with Sensory we are able to not only modernize the consumer experience offered by our products but do so in a way that addresses the increasingly alarming privacy issue that concerns many consumers worldwide,” said Dr. Scott Sun, Deputy Director of Midea MCA.
Does Your Brand Have A Voice?
Sensory’s embedded AI enables companies to own and control their voice experiences. Pairing a custom branded wake word with domain specific voice assistant creates a voice user experience that is unique to your brand. Every interaction reinforces the brand-customer bond while also effectively completing the task at hand. Products such as smart appliances, remote controls, wireless headsets, hearables, and wearables can all benefit from this next wave of voice user interface.
If you would like to learn more about Sensory, then please contact us here. We would be happy to discuss how we can best support your company’s custom voice strategy.
January 13, 2020
Everyone knows that the use of voice assistants is exploding. Just returning from CES, it was amazing to see the number of booths that support Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Nevertheless, recent research from Edison-NPR is showing that US household adoption of voice assistant applications is slowing down.
Read the full blog at Embedded Computing.
September 17, 2019
The IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung) Show occurred this past week in Berlin. It is certainly Europe’s largest tech show, and some would say it has now surpassed the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I hit CES every year and this was my second IFA, but something radically changed this year in the world of Voice Assistants. I’m going to make up a conversation based on 2 imaginary people. For fun I’ll call them Sundar and Jeff:
Read the full blog at voicebot.ai.
April 18, 2019
Ideal for Home Appliances, IoT, Set Top Box, Automobiles and More, TrulyNatural Offers a Fast and Reliable Voice Interface Without Privacy Concerns
Santa Clara, Calif., – April 18, 2019 – Sensory Inc., a Silicon Valley company dedicated to pioneering new capabilities for machine learning and embedded AI, today announced the first full feature release of TrulyNatural, the company’s embedded large vocabulary speech recognition platform, with natural language understanding. With more than 50 people-years of development and five years of beta testing behind it, TrulyNatural will help companies move beyond the cloud to create exciting products capable of natural language interaction without compromising their customers’ privacy and without the high memory cost of open source-based solutions.
In March of 2019, PCMag.com published results from a consumer survey where 40-percent of the 2,000 US consumers questioned placed privacy as their top concern related to smart home devices in their homes; far surpassing other concerns like cost, installation, product options and cross platform interoperability. Furthermore, Bloomberg published an article last week titled, “Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa,” which explains that Amazon’s Alexa team does in fact pay people to listen to recordings for algorithm training purposes. The Bloomberg article quoted, “Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.”
Privacy has never been a hotter topic than it is today. TrulyNatural is the perfect solution for addressing these consumer concerns, because it provides devices with an extremely intelligent natural language user interface, while keeping voice data private and secure; voice requests never leave the device, nor are they ever stored.
“To benefit from the advantages afforded by cloud-based natural language processing, companies have been forced to risk customer privacy by allowing always listening devices to share voice data with the recognition service providers,” said Todd Mozer, CEO at Sensory. “TrulyNatural does not require any data to leave the device and eliminates the privacy risks associated with sending voice data to the cloud, and as an added benefit it allows product manufacturers to own the customer relationship and experience.”
TrulyNatural can provide a natural language voice UI on devices of all shapes and sizes, and can be deployed for domain-specific applications, such as home appliances, vehicle infotainment systems, set top boxes, home automation, industrial and enterprise applications, mobile apps and more. Sensory is unique in developing its speech recognizer from scratch with the goal of providing the best quality of experience in the smallest footprint. Many companies take open source solutions and resell it. Sensory explored doing this too, but found that it could create its own solution that is an order of magnitude smaller than open source options without sacrificing performance, boasting an excellent task completion rate measured at greater than 90 percent accuracy1. TrulyNatural can be as small as under 10MB in a natural language and large vocabulary setting, but it can also be scaled to support broad-domain applications like virtual assistants and call center chatbots with a virtually unlimited vocabulary. By categorizing speech into unlimited intents and entities, the natural language understanding component of the system enables intelligent interpretation of any speech and does not require scripted grammars.
As an added bonus, TrulyNatural can be combined with other Sensory technologies to unlock powerful features and capabilities. These technologies include:
TrulyHandsfree TrulyNatural currently supports US English, with UK English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish planned for release in 2019 and 2020. SDK’s are available for Android, iOS, Windows, Linux and other leading platforms.
About Sensory Inc.
TrulyNatural is a trademark of Sensory Inc.
1: A home appliance task was analyzed through a spectrum of accented US English speakers across a mix of distances (1-10 ft) with a variety of background noise sources and levels representing realistic home conditions. Tasks included cooking methods, timers, time periods, food types and other possible functions (reset, stop, open/close, etc.) and users were not instructed on things they could or couldn’t request. Multiple types of entities and intents were chosen through NLU and one or more errors from a single phrase would be counted as an error, such that only completely correct interpretations were counted as accurate task completions. Garbage phrases that were ignored were counted as correct, any action taken on a garbage phrase was counted as failure. The task completion rate was measured at over 90% accurate.
September 13, 2018
I thought it was funny that Google and Alexa both handed out the neck worn badge holders which nobody seemed to wear.
There are some, but not a lot of companies that are innovating. There were a ton of smart speakers, thermostats, lights, electrical outlets and various appliances that can be controlled by assistants, but little of that rose to the level of true innovation based on where we are today. However, I did see a few new things too
INFRASTRUCTURE PLAYERS ARE BETTING ON AMAZON AND GOOGLE
There’s lots of infrastructure developing 3rd-party support of Alexa, Google and custom voice interfaces. For example, a variety of chip companies like DSPG were showing their ability to enable lower power solutions while design houses like Sugr, StreamUnlimited, and Frontier Smart Technologies can assist with hardware and software development.
OVERALL, MORE EVIDENCE OF VOICE ASSISTANT ACCELERATION
IFA showed the continuing growth and accelerated market adoption of voice assistants. It was a well organized and like CES, IFA had separate locations that required transportation to access through transportation. Berlin, by the way is a fantastic and unique city with a very liberal feel, friendly people, the best Turkish food I’ve ever had, and very international. Parts of it even reminded me of Berkeley in the 1970s. Of course, there is a lot more presence of voice assistants today!
Todd Mozer is CEO and founder of Sensory.
August 13, 2018
It’s not easy to be a retailer today when more and more people are turning to Amazon for shopping. And why not shop online? Ordering is convenient with features such as ratings. Delivery is fast and cheap, and returns are easy and free – if you are Prime member! In April 2018 Bezos reported there are more than 100 million Prime members in the world, and the majority of US households are Prime members. Walmart and Google have partnered in an ecommerce play to compete with Amazon, but Walmart is just dancing with the devil. Google will use the partnership to gather data and invest more in their internal ecommerce and shopping experiences. Walmart isn’t relaxing, and is aggressively pursuing ecommerce and AI initiatives through acquisitions, and its Store #8 that acts as an incubator for AI companies and internal initiatives. Question: why does Facebook have a Building 8 and Walmart have a Store 8 for skunkworks projects?
It’s not just the retailers that are under pressure, though. If you make consumer electronics it’s getting more challenging too. Google controls the Android eco-system and is pumping a lot of money into centralizing and hiring around their hardware development efforts. Google is competing against the mobile phones of Samsung, Huawei, LG, Oppo, Vivo, and other users of their Android OS. And Amazon is happy to sell other people’s hardware online (OK, not Google, but others), but they take a nice commission on those sales, and if it’s a hit product they find ways to make more money through Amazon’s in house brands and warehousing, and potentially even making the product themselves. The Alexa fund has financed companies that created Alexa based hardware products that Amazon ended up competing against with in-house developments,and when Amazon sells Alexa products it doesn’t need to make a big profit (as described in part one). And Apple… well, they have a history of extracting money from anyone that wants to play in their eco-system too. This is business and there’s a very good reason that Google, Amazon, Apple, and other giants are giants. They know how to make money on everything they do. They are tough to compete with. The “free” stuff consumers get (and we do get a lot!) isn’t really free. We are trading our data and personal information for it.
So retailers have it tough (and assistants will make it even tougher), service providers have it tough (and assistants with service offerings make it even tougher), and consumer electronic companies have it tough. But the toughest situation is for the speaker companies. The market for speakers is exploding driven by the demand for “smart” speakers. Markets and Markets research report the current smart speaker market at over $2.6B and growing at over 34% a year. Seems like that would be a sweet market to be in, but a lot of that growth is eating away at the traditional speaker market. So a speaker company gets faced with a few alternatives:
Many are choosing option 1 only to find that their sales are poor because of better quality lower priced offering from Google and Amazon. A company like Sonos, who is a leader in high quality wifi speakers has chosen option 1 with a twist where they are trying to support Google and Amazon and Apple. Their recent IPO filing highlights the challenges well:
”Our current agreement with Amazon allows Amazon to disable the Alexa integration in our Sonos One and Sonos Beam products with limited notice. As such, it is possible that Amazon, which sells products that compete with ours, may on limited notice disable the integration, which would cause our Sonos One or Sonos Beam products to lose their voice-enabled functionality. Amazon could also begin charging us for this integration which would harm our operating results.”
They further highlighted that their lack of service integrations could be a challenge should Google, Amazon or others offer discounting (which is already happening): “Many of these partners may subsidize these prices and seek to monetize their customers through the sale of additional services rather than the speakers themselves,” the company said. “Our business model, by contrast, is dependent on the sale of our speakers. Should we be forced to lower the price of our products in order to compete on a price basis, our operating results could be harmed.” Looking at Sono’s financials you can see their margins already starting to erode.
Some companies have attempted #2 above by bringing out in house Assistants using open-source speech recognizers like Kaldi. This might save the cost of deploying third party solutions but it requires substantial in house efforts, and is ultimately fraught with the same challenges as #3 above which is that it’s really hard to compete against companies approaching a trillion dollar market capitalization when these companies see AI and voice assistants as strategically important and are investing that way.
Retailers, Consumer OEMs, and Service providers all have a big challenge. I run a small company called Sensory. We develop AI technologies, and companies like Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple, Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, etc. are our customers AND our biggest competitors. My strategy? Move fast, innovate, and move on. I can’t compete head to head with these companies, but when I come out with solutions that they need BEFORE they have it in house, I get a 1-3 year window to sell to them before they switch to an in house replacement. That’s not bad for a small company like Sensory. For a bigger company like a Sonos or a Comcast, they could deploy the same general strategy to set up fast moving innovation pieces that allow them to stay ahead of the game. This appears to be the exact strategy that Walmart is taking on with Store 8 to not be left behind! Without doubt, it’s very tough competing in a world of giants that have no boundaries in their pursuits and ambitions!
August 6, 2018
Apple introduced Siri in 2011 and my world changed. I was running Sensory back then as I am today and suddenly every company wanted speech recognition. Sensory was there to sell it! Steve Jobs, a notorious nay-sayer on speech recognition, had finally given speech recognition the thumbs up. Every consumer electronics company noticed and decided the time had come. Sensory’s sales shot up for a few years driven by this sudden confidence in speech recognition as a user interface for consumer electronics.
Fast forward to today and Apple has just become the first and only trillion dollar US company in terms of market capitalization. One trillion dollars is an arbitrary round number with a lot of zeroes, but it is psychologically very important. It was winning a race. It was a race between Cook, Bezos, the Google/Alphabet Crew and others that most of the contestants would say doesn’t really matter and that they weren’t in the race. But, they were and they all wanted to win. Without question it was quarterly financial results that caused Apple to reach the magic number and beat Amazon, Google and Microsoft to the trillion dollar value spot. I wouldn’t argue that Siri got them there, but I would argue that Siri didn’t stop them, and this is important.
SIRI WAS FIRST, BUT QUICKLY LOST THE VOICE LEAD TO RIVALS
Then in 2014 Amazon introduced the Echo smart speaker with Alexa and beat Apple and others into the home with a useable voice assistant. Alexa came out strong and got stronger quickly. Amazon amassed over 5,000 people into what is likely the largest speech recognition team in the world. Google got punched but wasn’t knocked out. Its AI team kept growing and Google had a very strong reputation in academia as hiring the best and brightest machine learning and AI folks out of PhD programs. By 2016, Google had introduced its own smart speaker, and by CES 2018, Google made a VERY strong marketing statement that it was still in the game.
APPLE FOCUSED ELSEWHERE
AI ASSISTANTS DRIVE CONSUMER LOCK-IN
The assistants aren’t sold and so they don’t directly make money but they can be used as purchasing agents (where Amazon makes a lot of money), advertising agents (where Google makes its money), access to entertainment services (where all the big guys make money) and as a user experience for consumer electronics (where Apple makes a lot of money). The general thinking is that the more an assistant is used, the more it learns about the user, the better it serves the user, and the more the user is locked in! So winning in the AI Assistant game is HUGELY important and recent changes at Apple show that Siri is quickly coming up in the rankings and could have more momentum right now than in its entire history. That’s why Siri didn’t stop Apple from reaching $1T.
SIRI ON THE RISE
It may have taken a while but Apple seems serious. It’s nice to have a pioneer in the space not stay down for the count!
August 6, 2018
Here’s the basic motivation that I see in creating Voice Assistants…Build a cross platform user experience that makes it easy for consumers to interact, control and request things through their assistant. This will ease adoption and bring more power to consumers who will use the products more and in doing so create more data for the cloud providers. This “data” will include all sorts of preferences, requests, searches, purchases, and will allow the assistants to learn more and more about the users. The more the assistant knows about any given user, the BETTER the assistant can help the user in providing services such as entertainment and assisting with purchases (e.g. offering special deals on things the consumer might want). Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
1. Owning the cross platform user experience and collecting user data to make a better Voice Assistants.
Owning the user experience on a single device is not good enough. The goal of each of these voice assistants is to be your personal assistant across devices. On your phone, in your home, in your car, wherever you may go. This is why we see Alexa and Google and Siri all battling for, as an example, a position in automotive. Your assistant wants to be the place you turn for consistent help. In doing so it can learn more about your behaviors…where you go, what you buy, what you are interested in, who you talk to, and what your history is. This isn’t just scary big brother stuff. It’s quite practical. If you have multiple assistants for different things, they may each think of you and know you differently, thereby having a less complete picture. It’s really best for the consumer to have one assistant that knows you best.
For example, let’s take the simple case of finding food when I’m hungry. I might say “I’m hungry.” Then the assistant’s response would be much more helpful the more it knows about me. Does it know I’m a vegetarian? Does it know where I’m located, or whether I am walking or driving? Maybe it knows I’m home and what’s in my refrigerator, and can suggest a recipe…does it know my food/taste preferences? How about cost preferences? Does it have the history of what I have eaten recently, and knows how much variety I’d like? Maybe it should tell me something like “Your wife is at Whole Foods, would you like me to text her a request or call her for you?” It’s easy to see how these voice assistants could really be quite helpful the more it knows about you. But with multiple assistants in different products and locations, it wouldn’t be as complete. In this example it might know I’m home, but NOT know what’s in my fridge. Or it might know what’s in the fridge and know I’m home but NOT know my wife is currently shopping at Whole Foods, etc.
The more I use my assistant across more devices in more situations and over more time, the more data it could gather and the better it should get at servicing my needs and assisting me! It’s easy to see that once it knows me well and is helping me with this knowledge it will get VERY sticky and become difficult to get me to switch to a new assistant that doesn’t know me as well.
2. Entertainment and other service package sales.
3. Selling and recommending products to consumers
It would be really obnoxious if Alexa or Siri or Cortana or Google Assistant suddenly suggested I buy something that I wasn’t interested in, but what if it knew what I needed? For example, it could track vitamin usage and ask if I want more before they run out, or it could know how frequently I wear out my shoes, and recommend a sale for my brand and my size, when I really needed them. The more my assistant knows me the better it can “advertise” and sell me in a way that’s NOT obnoxious but really helpful. And of course making extra money in the process!
July 25, 2018
I have spoken on a lot of “voice” oriented shows over the years, and it has been disappointing that there hasn’t been more discussion about the competition in the industry and what is driving the huge investments we see today. Because companies like Amazon and Google participate in and sponsor these shows, there is a tendency to avoid the more controversial aspects of the industry. I wrote this blog to share some of my thoughts on what is driving the competition, why the voice assistant space is so strategically important to companies, and some of the challenges resulting from the voice assistant battles
In September of 2017 it was widely reported that Amazon had over 5000 employees working on Alexa with more than 1000 more to be hired. To use a nice round and conservative number, let’s assume an average Alexa employee’s fully weighted cost to Amazon is $200K. With about 6,000 employees on the Alexa team today, that would mean a $1.2 billion investment. Of course, some of this is recouped by the Echo’s and Dot’s bringing in profits, but when you consider that Dots sell for $30-$50 and Echos at $80-$100, it’s hard to imagine a high enough profit to justify the investment through hardware sales. For example, if Amazon can sell 30 million Alexa devices and make an average of $30 per unit profit, that only covers 75% of the cost of the conservative $1.2 billion investment.
Other evidence supporting the huge investments being made in voice assistants is the battle in advertising. Probably the most talked about thing at 2018’s CES show was the enormous position Google took in advertising the Google Assistant. In fact, if you watch any of the most expensive advertising slots on TV (SuperBowl, NBA finals, World Cup, etc.) you will see a preponderance of advertisements with known actors and athletes saying “Hey Google,” “Alexa,” or, “Hey Siri.” (Being in the wakeword business, I particularly like the Kevin Durant “Yo Google” ad!)
And it’s not just the US giants that are investing big into assistants: Docomo, Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba, Naver, and other large international players are developing their own or working with 3rd party assistants.
So what is driving this huge investment companies are making? It’s a multitude of factors including:
In my next blog, I’ll discuss these three factors in more detail, and in a final blog on this topic I will discuss the challenges being faced by consumer OEMs and service providers that must play in the voice assistant game to not lose out to service and hardware competition from Apple, Amazon, Google, and others.
October 12, 2017
Amazon, Google, Sonos, and LINE all introduced smart speakers within a few weeks of each other. Here’s my quick take and commentary on those announcements.Amazon now has the new Echo, the old Echo, the Echo Plus, Spot, Dot, Show, and Look. The company is improving quality, adding incremental features, lowering cost, and seemingly expanding its leadership position. They make great products for consumers, have a very strong eco-system, and make very tough products to compete with for both their competitors and their many platform partners that use Alexa. Seems that their branding strategy is to use short three- or four-letter names that have Os. The biggest thing that was missing was speaker identification to know who’s talking to it. Interestingly, Amazon just added that capability.
Google execs wore black shirts and jeans in a very ironic-seeming Steve Jobs fashion. They attacked the Amazon Dot with their Mini, and announced the Max to compete with the quality expectations of Sonos and Apple. I didn’t find much innovation in the product line or in their dress, but I’d still rank the Google Assistant as the most capable assistant I’ve used. Of course, Google got caught stealing data, so it makes sense they have more knowledge about us and can make a better assistant.
Sonos invented the Wi-Fi speaker market and has always been known for quality. They announced the Sonos One at a surprisingly aggressive $199 price point. Their unique play is to support Alexa, Assistant, and Siri, starting first with Alexa. Now this would put price pressure on Apple’s planned $349 HomePod, but my guess is that Apple will aggressively sell this into its captive, and demographically wealthy market before they allow Sonos to incorporate Siri. Like Apple, Sonos will have a nice edge in being able to sell into its existing customer base who will certainly want the added convenience and capability of voice control, with their choice of assistant.
American readers might be familiar with LINE, but the company offers a hugely popular communications app that’s been downloaded by about a billion people. They’re big in Japan and owned by Naver, an even bigger Korean company that’s also working on a smart speaker.
Most notable about LINE (besides the unique looking speaker that resembles a cone with the top cut off) is that it appears that they’re not only beating Amazon, Google, Apple, and Sonos to Japan, but they’re also getting there before the Japanese giants like Docomo, Sony, Sharp, and Softbank. And all of these companies are making smart speakers.
Then, there are the Chinese giants who are all making smart speakers, and the old-school speaker companies who are trying to get into the game. It’s going to be crowded very quickly, and I’m very excited to see quality going up and costs staying low.