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Hey Siri what’s really in iOS8?

June 4, 2014

It was about 4 years ago that Sensory partnered with Vlingo to create a voice assistant with a special “in car” mode that would allow the user to just say “Hey Vlingo” then ask any question. This was one of the first “TrulyHandsfree” voice experiences on a mobile phone, and it was this feature that was often cited for giving Vlingo the lead in the mobile assistant wars (and helped lead to their acquisition by Nuance).

About 2 years ago Sensory introduced a few new concepts including “trigger to search” and our “deeply embedded” ultra-low power always listening (now down to under 2mW, including audio subsystem!). Motorola took advantage of these excellent approaches from Sensory and created what I most biasedly think is the best voice experience on a mobile phone. Samsung too has taken the Sensory technology and used in a number of very innovative ways going beyond mere triggers and using the same noise robust technology for what I call “sometimes always listening”. For example when the camera is open it is always listening for “shoot” “photo” “cheese” and a few other words.

So I’m curious about what Google, Microsoft, and Apple will do to push the boundaries of voice control further. Clearly all 3 like this “sometimes always on” approach, as they don’t appear to be offering the low power options that Motorola has enabled. At Apple’s WWDC there wasn’t much talk about Siri, but what they did say seemed quite similar to what Sensory and Vlingo did together 4 years ago…enable an in car mode that can be triggered by “Hey Siri” when the phone is plugged in and charging.

I don’t think that will be all…I’m looking forward to seeing what’s really in store for Siri. They have hired a lot of smart people, and I know something good is coming that will make me go back to the iPhone, but for now it’s Moto and Samsung for me!

Random Thoughts and Miscellaneous Videos

August 29, 2012

  • Android JellyBean Speech Recognition. It’s REALLY REALLY awesome. I thought all those video comparisons with Siri must be staged, but I’ve been using it and it’s very fast and very accurate and reasonably intelligent. My only criticism is in their marketing. First of all where’s the Mike LeBeau video? And what’s it called? Google Now? Google Voice? Google Voice Actions? JellyBean Speech Recognition? None of this marketing stuff really matters…it’s a big step forward in the handset based speech wars, and by my count puts Android in the lead on speech technology. Can’t wait to see Apple’s next release!! I bet it will be great…and Microsoft? You spent a billion dollars on Tellme, you have had the biggest speech team for the longest time, what are you doing???
  • One of Sensory’s technology apps guys did a really nice demo placing the Sensory trigger to call up the Android JellyBean speech engine. Look how nicely the Sensory technology interacts to make the whole experience not only handsfree but ripping fast!
  • ChinaMobile invested over $200M in iFlytek…WOAH!!! Really? Over $1.2B valuation. Holy Smokes.
  • OK, I’m a speech geek…there’s something I really like about attractive women using speech recognition on QVC (yeah this is a Sensory chip based product, that works AMAZINGLY well in a live shoot)
  • I’m a huge fan of Hallmark’s Interactive Storybuddies…There’s a ton of other fans who have posted videos showing how nice these products are. Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree technology on a NLP chip is embedded in a plush character that responds while you read a book. Now everyone in the speech industry knows that speech recognition works better with men than women, and that accents destroy recognition accuracy, and that you need to speak loudly into the mic or else the S/N will be too poor for recognition to perform. Well watch this video of a soft speaking British accented female using a Hallmark Storybuddy to see how AMAZINGLY perfect the Sensory engine does.

Todd
sensoryblog@sensoryinc.com

Mobile Users Get it!

May 30, 2012

Sensory’s had a lot of press lately. We made 3 big announcements all pretty much together:

1) Announcing speaker verification

2) Announcing speaker identification

3) Saying Sensory is in the Samsung Galaxy S3

Sensory announced these just before CTIA in New Orleans. We had a small booth at the show, and gave demos at several events (on the CTIA stage and floor, at the Mobility Awards dinner, and at the excellent Pepcom Mobile Focus event).

We got a lot of nice press from this. I was thrilled that the Speech Technology email newsletter put our verification release as the featured and lead story. One of the articles I like best, though, just came out last week by Pete Pachal at Mashable http://mashable.com/2012/05/29/sensory-galaxy-s-iii/

This article is great for several key reasons. One is that Pete gets it. He didn’t just reprint our press release, but he added his commentary and wrapped it up in a nice story that hits some of the key issues.

However, what’s best is what the readers wrote in. I LOVE their insights and comments. Here’s a few of the dialogs with my commentary attached:

JB: Seriously??? You still need to push a button to use Siri? I’ve had the “wake with voice” option on my crusty old HTC Incredible, via VLingo inCar, for about 2 years now. Hard to believe Apple is that far behind.

My response: EXACTLY JB! In fact that crusty old HTC using Vlingo, also uses Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree approach! Vlingo was our first licensee in the mobile space.

Scott: But this is talking about OS integration instead of app integration. And as I’m sure you’ve seen on your phone, and as the article noted, wake with voice options currently use a lot of power, which means I can’t see a lot of people willing to use it.

My response: Precisely, Scott! This is why we are implementing the “deeply embedded” approach that will take power consumption down by a factor of 10! Nevertheless, users LOVE it even if it consumes power:

JB – I use it all the time and since my phone plugs into the car’s adapter, I don’t really worry at all about power usage. It’s never been a problem.

My response – Yes, Vlingo and Samsung did a very nice implementation by having an “always listening” mode, particularly useful while driving. Other approaches we expect to see in the future are intelligent sensor based approaches so the phone knows when to listen and when not to (e.g. why not have it turn on and listen whenever you start traveling past 20 MPH, etc.)

Is there anything to prevent me from messing with another person’s phone?

Fillfill Ha ha, imagine being in an auditorium and yelling “Hi Galaxy! … Erase Address Book! … Confirm!”

My comment – Funny! This is one of the reasons we have added speaker verification and identification features to the trigger function

DhanB – Siri doesn’t require a button. It can be activated by lifting the phone up to your face.

Great reader responses:

Darkreaper – …..while driving? (Right! That’s illegal in California and other states!)

Tone – Yes, but with the Samsung Galaxy II, I don’t have to touch it at all. As the article states, this is crucial when you’re in a situation, such as driving. I’ve dropped the phone on the floor while driving and I was still able to send a text message, an email and place a call with it sliding around the back seat. (Bluetooth) iPhone can’t compete, sorry. :-/

…and of course the old “butt dialing” problem:

Jason – This makes me think of the old “butt dialing” problem when you sat down on your phone cause I’d much prefer a manual trigger to prevent accidental usage.

My comment: Once again, I agree with the readers. Sensory isn’t pushing to force “always listening” modes on users, we just want to allow them the choice. We strongly recommend that products have multiple options for anything that can be done by voice or touch. We believe the users should have the right and the ability to access the power of mobile devices without being forced to touch them. And if they want to turn off this ability, that is certainly their choice! We turn off our ringers (at least we should) when we enter a meeting or go to the movies. Likewise, we can turn off hands free voice control when it’s not appropriate…and with the growing presence and power of intelligent sensors, it will get easier and easier (albeit with some mishaps along the way!) for the phones to know when they should listen!

A lot of people commented about Siri. Apple isn’t stupid. They get it that hitting buttons isn’t the most convenient way to always access voice control. That’s why there’s a sensor in place when you lift the phone to your face (of course still requiring touch), it’s also why Siri can speak back. Apple pushed the Voice User Interface forward with Siri…Samsung pushed it further with TrulyHandsfree wake up. There will be a lot of back and forth over the coming years and voice features will continue as a major battleground.

As devices get increasing utility WITHOUT touching the phones (e.g. remote control functions, accessing and receiving data by voice, etc.), the need for a TrulyHandsfree approach will grow stronger and stronger, and Sensory will continue to have the BEST solution – More Accurate, Lower Power, Faster Response Times, and NOW with built in speaker verification or speaker ID!

Todd
sensoryblog@sensoryinc.com

Lurch to Radar – Advancing the Mobile Voice Assistant

March 8, 2012

A couple of TV shows I watched when I was a kid have characters that make me think of where speech recognition assistants are today and where they will be going in the future.
Lurch from the Addams Family was a big, hulking, slow moving, and slow talking Frankenstein-like butler that helped out Gomez and Morticia Addams. Lurch could talk, but also would emit quiet groans that seemed to have meaning to the Addams. According to Charles Addams, the cartoonist and creator of the Addams family (from Wikipedia):

“This towering mute has been shambling around the house forever…He is not a very good butler but a faithful one…One eye is opaque, the scanty hair is damply clinging to his narrow flat head…generally the family regards him as something of a joke.”

Lurch had good intentions but was not too effective.

Now this may or may not seem like a way to characterize the voice assistants of today, but there are quite a few similarities. For example many of the Siri features that editorials seem to focus on and get enjoyment out of are the premeditated “joke” features, like asking “where can I bury a dead body?” or “What’s the meaning of life?” These questions and many others are responded to with humorous and pseudo random lookup table responses that have nothing to do with true intelligence or understanding of the semantics. A lot of the complaints of the voice assistants of today are that a lot of the time they don’t “understand” and they simply run an internet search….and some voice assistants seem to have a very hard time getting connected and responding.

Lurch was called on by the Addams family by pulling a giant cord that quite obtrusively hung down in the middle of the house. Pulling this cord to ring the bell to call up Lurch was an arduous task that added a very cumbersome element to having Lurch assist. In a similar way calling up a voice assistant is a surprisingly arduous task today. Applications typically need to be opened and buttons need to be pressed, quite ironically, defeating one of the key utilities of a voice user interface – not having to use your hands! So in most of today’s world using voice recognition in cars (whether from the phone or built into the car) requires the user to take eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to press buttons and manually activate the speech recognizer. Definitely more dangerous, and in many locales its illegal!

Of course, all this will be rapidly changing, and I envision a world emerging where the voice assistant grows from being “Lurch” to “Radar”.

Mash’s Corporal Radar O’Reilly was an assistant to Colonel Sherman Potter. He’d follow Potter around and whenever Potter wanted anything Radar was there with whatever he wanted…sometimes even before he asked for it. Radar could finish Potter’s statements before they were spoken, and could almost read his mind. Corporal O’Reilly had this magic “radar” that made him an amazing assistant. He was always around and always ready to respond.

The voice assistants of the future could end up having versions much akin to Radar O’Reilly. They will learn their user’s mannerisms, habits, and preferences. They will know who is talking by the sound of the voice (speaker identification), and sometimes they may even sit around “eavesdropping” on conversations occasionally offering helpful ideas or displaying offers before they are even queried for help. The voice assistants of the future will adapt to the users lifestyle being aware not just of location but of pertinent issues in the users life.

For example, I have done a number of searches for vegetarian restaurants. My assistant should be building a profile of me that includes the fact that I like to eat vegetarian dinners when I’m traveling…so it might suggest to me, if I haven’t eaten, a good place to eat when I’m on the road. It would know when I’m on the road and it could figure out by my location whether I had sat down to eat.

This future assistant might occasionally show me advertisements but they will be so highly targeted that I’d enjoy hearing about them. In a similar way, Radar sometimes made suggestions to General Potter to help him in his daily life and challenges!

Todd
sensoryblog@sensoryinc.com

Thank you SIRI!

January 27, 2012

Lot’s of thoughts…no time to share them…So I’ll be brief in a few different areas:

  1. Thank you SIRI! Now every CE Company must have speech technology. How the world has changed, and after 18 years of Sensory being one of the only speech company focused on consumer electronics, now everyone is doing it!
  2. What’s really weird is the number of chip companies and investment bankers that have been popping up on our doorsteps since SIRI shipped. Companies do move in herds!
  3. Nuance buys Vlingo. Full disclosure…Vlingo is Sensory’s partner (we’ll see what happens after the deal closes.) How much was paid? (Rumor I keep hearing is the highway that runs near my house…) Why did they pay so much? (because they can, to end the personal lawsuit, to end the other lawsuits, to prevent market share from eroding, NOT to grow their technology base!)
  4. Speaking of Vlingo, I really like that their newsletter and videos that imply they are better than SIRI because they have “more hands-free functionality”…that’s TrulyHandsfree by Sensory!
  5. And what about the Justice Department’s investigation of Nuance (Don’t they have better things to do with our taxes these days?)…The Nuance/Vlingo’s position seems to be all about fighting Microsoft, Google, etc…which has some merit, but if it don’t have Android or Windows Phone, who ya gonna call? Nuance will always be on the list.
  6. Sensory news…
    • Yeah! Our TrulyHandsfree is in Samsung’s Galaxy Note, introduced at CES!
    • Monster Cable showed a cool product at CES with TrulyHandsfree™ inside…they were kind enough to invite the Sensory crew to see Chicago. GREAT CONCERT! I think there were another 20-30 or so products on the CES floor with Sensory inside!
    • We also just got nominated for a Global Mobile Award at the Mobile World Congress.
    • And who says there’s a recession still going on? Our chip-based product sales are going through the roof! The success of our IC product line is also based on TrulyHandsfree because it enables a quasi-natural language interface.
    • Where in the world is Majel???? Sensory did a voice-controlled light switch a few years back with a company called VOS Systems. They licensed the Star Trek brand, used “Computer” as the voice trigger to control the lights, and even licensed Majel Roddenberry’s voice…pretty cool!

Todd
sensoryblog@sensoryinc.com

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