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Speaking the language of the voice assistant

June 17, 2016

Hey Siri, Cortana, Google, Assistant, Alexa, BlueGenie, Hound, Galaxy, Ivee, Samantha, Jarvis, or any other voice-recognition assistant out there.

Now that Google and Apple have announced that they’ll be following Amazon into the home far-field voice assistant business, I’m wondering how many things in my home will always be on, listening for voice wakeup phrases. In addition, how will they work together (if at all). Let’s look at some possible alternatives:

Co-existence. We’re heading down a path where we as consumers will have multiple devices on and listening in our homes and each device will respond to its name when spoken to. This works well with my family; we just talk to each other, and if we need to, we use each other’s names to differentiate. I can have friends and family over or even a big party, and it doesn’t become problematic calling different people by different names.

The issue for household computer assistants all being on simultaneously is that false fires will grow in direct proportion to the number of devices on and listening. With Amazon’s Echo, I get a false fire about every other day, and Alexa does a great job of listening to what I say after the false fire and ignoring if it doesn’t seem to be an intended command. It’s actually the best performing system I’ve used and the fact that its starts playing music or talking every other week is a testament to what a good job they have done. However, interrupting my family every other week is not good enough. And if I have five always-listening devices interrupting us 10 times a month, that becomes unacceptable. And if they don’t do as good a job as Alexa, and interrupt more frequently, it becomes quite problematic.

Functional winners. Maybe each device could own a functional category. For example, all my music systems could use Alexa, my TV’s use Hi Galaxy, and all appliances are Bosch. Then I’d have less “names” to call out to and there would be some big benefits: 1) The devices using the same trigger phrase could communicate and compare what they heard to improve performance; 2) More relevant data could be collected on the specific usage models, thus further improving performance; and 3) With less names to call out, I’d have fewer false fires. Of course, this would force me as a consumer to decide on certain brands to stick to in certain categories.

Winner take all. Amazon is adopting a multi-pronged strategy of developing its own products (Echo, Dot, Tap, etc.) and also letting its products control other products. In addition, Amazon is offering the backend Alexa voice service to independent product developers. It’s unclear whether competitors will follow suit, but one thing is clear—the big guys want to own the home, not share it.

Amazon has a nice lead as it gets other products to be controlled by Echo. The company even launched an investment fund to spur more startups writing to Alexa. Consumers might choose an assistant we like (and we think performs well) and just stick with that across the household. The more we share with that assistant, the better it knows us, and the better it serves us. This knowledge base could carry across products and make our lives easier.

Just Talk. In the “co-existence” case previously mentioned, there six people in my household, so it can be a busy place. But when I speak to someone, I don’t always start with their name. In fact, I usually don’t. If there’s just one other person in the room, it’s obvious who I’m speaking to. If there are multiple people in the room, I tend to look at or gesture toward the person I’m addressing. This is more natural than speaking their name.

An “always listening” device should have other sensors to know things like how many people are in the room, where they’re standing and looking at, how they’re gesturing, and so on. These are the subconscious cues humans use to know who is talking to us, and our devices would be smarter and more capable if they could do it.

CES 2014 – Sensory and Wearables Everywhere!

January 15, 2014

I spent last week at CES in Las Vegas. What a show!

The big keynote speech was the night before the show started and was given by Brian Krzanich, Intel’s new CEO. His talk was focused on Wearables, and he demonstrated 3 wearable devices (charger, in-ear, and platform architecture). The platform demo included a live on stage use of speech recognition with the low power wake up provided by Sensory. The demo was a smashing success! Several bloggers called it a “canned” demo assuming it couldn’t be live speech recognition if it worked so flawlessly!

I had a chance to walk through the Wearables area. Holy smoke there must have been 20 or 30 smart watches, a similar number of health bands, and even a handful of glasses vendors. In fact, seeing attendees wearing Google’s Glass was quite common place. The smart watches mostly communicate with Bluetooth, and some of the smaller, lighter devices, use Zigbee, ultra-low power Bluetooth, or Ant+ for wireless communications.

Sensory was all over CES, here’s some of the things Sensory sales people were able to catch us in:

  • LG new Flex phone – Cool curved phone
  • LG G2 phone – latest greatest phone from LG
  • Samsung Note 3 – new Note product
  • Samsung Android camera – command and control by Sensory!
  • Samsung new 12.4 tablet
  • Plantronics – miscellaneous headsets
  • Intel – great keynote from Intel CEO, and behind closed doors platform demos
  • Conexant – showing TV controlled by Sensory
  • ivee – clock that controls home appliances
  • Ubi – IoT product
  • Motorola – Awesome Touchless Control feature on several phones
  • Telenav – Scout navigation now hands-free
  • Cadence – showing our music control demo.
  • Realtek – showing deeply embedded PC
  • DSPG – great glasses (wearable) demo on low power chips
  • Wolfson –trigger to search demo on low power chips
  • Sensory voice command demo on CEVA TeakLite-4

Overall a great show for Sensory. Jeff Rogers, Sensory’s VP Sales told me, “A few people said they had searched out speech recognition products on the show floor to find the various speech vendors, and found that they all were using Sensory.”

CES 2013

January 15, 2013

I’ve been going to CES for about 30 years now. More than half of that has been with Sensory selling speech recognition. This year I reminisced with Jeff Rogers (Sensory’s VP Sales who has been at Sensory almost as long as me) about Sensory’s first CES back in 1995 where we walked around with briefcases that said “Ask Me About Speech Recognition for Consumer Electronics”.  A lot of people did ask! There’s always been a lot of interest in speech recognition for consumer electronics, but today it goes beyond interest…it’s in everything from the TV’s to the Cars to Bluetooth devices…and a lot of that is with Sensory technology. Often we are paired with Nuance, Google and increasingly ATT as the cloud speech solution, while Sensory is the client.
In 2013, Sensory counted about 20 companies showing its technology on the floor or in private meeting rooms. An increasing percentage of our products are now connected to the cloud and using client/cloud speech schemes. Here’s just a short summary of some of the new things here at the show:

Bluetooth
BlueAnt, Bluetrek, Drive and Talk, Monster Cable, Motorola, Plantronics, all showed products using Sensory’s BlueGenie speech technologies for Bluetooth devices. I noticed Plantronics won a show award for one of their new devices with Sensory technology. This market seems to have flattened and stopped growing, and Sensory is lucky to be working with the leaders who appear to be gaining in marketshare against their competition…correlation or causation??   ;-) Our customers in this segment introduced a dozen or more new products ranging from carkits to headsets to Bluetooth speaker systems.

Chip Companies
Conexant announced their new DSP CX20865 running Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree and gave demo’s in their Suite at the LVH.
Tensilica announced their new HIFI Mini and gave some of the best demo’s on the showroom floor of speech recognition (Sensory’s of course!) working in adverse noise conditions at ultra low power.

Automotive
QNX showed off their beautiful Bentley concept car with built in graphics and speech recognition including Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree Voice Control paired with AT&T’s cloud based Watson ASR engine
Visteon – Did some pretty neat demo’s that we can’t discuss other to say they featured Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree Voice Control! The car companies love us because WE WORK in noise!

Other
Samsung had a huge booth showing Galaxy products (Note, S3, etc.) using Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree triggers as a part of the S-Voice system
VTech showed a variety of phone products using Sensory technologies including our micro-TTS solutions for caller ID
IVEE paired a Sensory IC for local command and operation with the ATT cloud recognizer to create a very impressive demo that got nice coverage on NPR! (scroll down to “heard on the air”)
Behind closed doors – around half a dozen other companies showed cool new things in private suites. Unfortunately I can’t discuss these, but I will say that 2013 will see some major product releases with interesting user experiences and Sensory will be very proud to be a part of these!
My favorite non Sensory things – Yeah the 4K/8K TV’s were pretty amazing. Crisper than real life, which doesn’t seem possible but it’s true. The new 3D printers and services to make hardware prototypes are amazing (why isn’t HP dominating this market???). But…my favorite stuff is robotics. There was a robot glass cleaner that climbs vertically around windows and cleans them off without falling. Kinda like a Roomba for windows. I met some hacker guys that as a hobby make giant servo/mechanical/electro robot snakes and creatures they can ride in. Think MadMax/Burning Man kinds of artistic technology. I have some neat video’s of this I’ll send anyone who wants them.