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Sensory CEO Interview with Pymnts

January 11, 2019

Karen Webster is one of the best writers and interviewers in tech/fintech.

Read the full interview here.

Is Voice Activation Unsafe?

October 15, 2014

A couple of news headlines have appeared recently asserting that voice activation is unsafe. I thought it was time for Sensory to weigh in on a few aspects of this since we are the pioneers in voice activation:

  1. In-Car Speech Recognition. There have been a few studies like AAA/U of Utah
    The headlines from these studies claim speech recognition creates distraction while driving. Other recent studies have shown that voice recognition in the car is one of the biggest complaints. But if you read into these studies carefully, what you really find are several important aspects:

    • What they call “hands free” is not 100% TrulyHandsfree. It requires touch to activate so right there I agree it can take your eyes of the road, and potentially your hands off the wheels.
    • It’s really bad UX design that is distracting and not the speech recognition per se.
    • It’s not that people don’t want speech recognition. It’s that they don’t want speech recognition that fails all the time.

    Here’s my conclusion on all this denigration of in-car speech recognition: there are huge problems with what the automotive companies have been deploying. The UX is bad and the speech recognition is bad. That doesn’t mean that speech recognition is not needed in the car…on the contrary, what’s needed is good speech recognition implemented in good design.

    From my own experience it isn’t just that the speech recognition is bad and the UX is bad. The flaky Bluetooth connections and the problems of changing phones adds to the perception of speech not working. When I’m driving, I use speech recognition all the time, and it’s GREAT, but I don’t use the recognizer in my Lexus…I use my MotoX with the always on trigger, and then with Google Now, I can make calls or listen to music, etc.

  2. Lack of Security. The CTO of AVG blasted speech recognition because it is unsafe.Now I previously resisted the temptation to comment on this, because the CTO’s boss (the CEO) is on my board of directors. I kind of agree and I kind of disagree with the CTO. I agree that speech recognition CAN BE unsafe…that’s EXACTLY why we add speaker verification into our wake up triggers…then ONLY the right person can get in. It’s really kind of surprising to me that Apple and Google haven’t done this yet! On the other hand, there are plenty of tasks that don’t really require security. The idea of a criminal lurking outside my home and controlling my television screen seemed more humorous than scary. In the case of TVs, I do think password protection is great but it’s really more for the purpose of identifying who is using the television and to call up their favorites, their voice adapted templates, and their restrictions (if any) on what they can watch AND how long they can watch…yeah I’m thinking about my kids and their need to get homework done. :-)

The price of free phone features

August 5, 2013

I often get the question, “If Android and Qualcomm offer voice activation for free, why would anyone license from Sensory?” While I’m not sure about Android and Qualcomm’s business models, I do know that decisions are based on accuracy, total added cost (royalties plus hardware requirements to run), power consumption, support, and other variables. Sensory seems to be consistently winning the shootouts it enters for embedded voice control. Some approaches that appear lower cost require a lot more memory or MIPS, driving up total cost and power consumption.

It’s interesting to note that companies like Nuance have a similar challenge on the server side where Google and Microsoft “give it away”. Because Google’s engine is so good it creates a high hurdle for Nuance. I’d guess Google’s rapid progress helps Nuance with their licensing of Apple, but may have made it more challenging to license Samsung. Samsung actually licensed Vlingo AND Nuance AND Sensory, then Nuance bought Vlingo.

Why doesn’t Samsung use Google recognition if it’s free? On the server it’s not power consumption effecting decisions, but cost, quality, and in this case CONTROL. On the cost side it could be that Samsung MAKES more money by using Nuance in some sort of ad revenue kickbacks, which I’d guess Google doesn’t allow. This is of course just hypothesizing. I don’t really know, and if I did know I couldn’t say. The control issue is big too as companies like Sensory and Nuance will sell to everyone and in that sense offer platform independence and more control. Working with a Microsoft or Google engine forces an investment in a specific platform implementation, and therefore less flexibility to have a uniform cross platform solution.

Superbowl Ads – Speech Activation Coming of Age

February 18, 2013

(…and something new from Sensory just around the corner!)

I remember watching the Superbowl last year and seeing a BMW Series 3 commercial that I thought was interesting.

It was interesting to me because they put a motion/proximity sensor under the trunk so the user could open the trunk in a hands-free manner. The commercial highlights the benefit of hands-free access when a woman walks up with her hands full of luggage and she just wiggles her foot around and the trunk pops open! Cool…except the user has to do a little one legged dance with their hands full, and as the commercial highlights (which is another reason why I found it interesting), other things can accidentally open the trunk, like a dog wagging its tail. Wouldn’t a hands-free voice trigger do a much better job? Especially an ultra-low-power implementation on a standalone processor with built in speaker verification for security…sounds like a challenge for Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree approach.

Fast forward to this year’s Superbowl, and Kia comes out with the “space babies” ad for its Sorento, and the Uvo entertainment system. Kid asks dad “where do babies come from” and dad concocts an elaborate and humorous lie.

Then after dad’s tall tale the kid says “But Jake said that babies are made when mommies and daddies…” and dad quickly interrupts the kid by saying “Uvo, play Wheels on the Bus”. The Uvo system hears dad and immediately plays the music drowning out the kid’s question. Cool commercial and nice use of voice activation to control music while driving!

Many of Sensory’s customers have told us that they don’t want to have to say the brand name as a command word, and they would really like to name their products themselves, and even better, have the products know who they are when they talk so that settings and controls can be customized to their use…Another job for Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree!

On February 19th we will announce our TrulyHandsfree 3.0 which will enable all of the voice control scenarios I have described, enabling better user experiences that are more customized and more secure!
Stay tuned for the details!