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One of the fastest growing industries in the smart home space is the smart device market. However, much of this growth depends on the addition of voice control technology. Voice-activated artificial intelligence assistants — where the consumer uses their voice to direct, control, or interact with technology — are emerging to become the primary method of communicating with devices.
Don’t lift a finger: AI-powered voice commands are the future of the smart home
Voice control: give the people what they want
Consumers, used to having answers at their fingertips, have easily (and eagerly) adapted to using their voice. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has made the transition seamless. Like web and mobile, speech is now transforming from just another interface into a distinct consumer channel. It is estimated that by 2024 the number of speech assistants will reach a staggering 8.4 billion, catching up with the world’s population. Furthermore, the Vote Consumer Index 2021 surveyed technology users and found that a third use speech technology on a daily basis. It is clear that speech technology is increasingly becoming an essential part of our daily lives. The addition of voice user interfaces (VUIs) to appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, will only accelerate the trend in the home.
AI around the house
Homes and appliances are becoming more sophisticated and thus more difficult to operate seamlessly. Many devices have extensive feature sets that most users never have access to, thanks to the difficulty of the interface. With voice control, users don’t have to struggle with the microwave’s touchpad; they can just say what they’re cooking and even save presets for favorite dishes. Users can tell the washing machine to be careful with delicate items, tell the kitchen faucet to fill a glass with water, and even tell the trash can to open itself when their hands are full.
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While voice control is mostly present on smart speakers and mobile devices these days, voice is willing to go further. Improvements in hardware and software make voice control practical for almost any type of product. Industry efforts to increase the interoperability of voice services, or the ability of a device to support multiple voice assistants, can also be supported through design. Discreet or even invisible systems can be embedded in devices, and new systems have instant response times with no cloud latency.
The next iteration of voice control products will allow for increased integration of voice into standalone products that work in different areas of the home. Some of these devices will use cloud technologies for their backend intelligence, while others will keep interactions locally on the edge. A new generation of advanced use cases awaits.
Voice control for everyone
While any product is ready to host speech technology, there are still hurdles that VUIs must overcome before they become equally useful to everyone.
One of those hurdles is the need to respond accurately and consistently to people of different ages, with different dialects or speech disorders. Thanks to machine learning, edge devices will become even more intelligent and useful over time. New systems will be able to better distinguish between different household voices, opening up new levels of personalization and security. Professional organizations such as Black in AI, Women in machine learning and Women in voice working to increase the representation of diverse voices in AI, voice technology and machine learning. Such organizations will ultimately lead to more innovation and inclusiveness.
Users also need more support from brands to learn what speech technology can do for them. Most users just stumble upon voice experiences. By the Vote Consumer Index 2021, many are finding out how to make the voice work for their household through trial-and-error, followed by contacting relatives and friends and then checking product packaging and websites. People want to do more with their voice assistants, but are limited. Education is the key to giving consumers what they already want.
AI-powered voice brings it all together
Voice is the unified control method that helps all these different devices “work together.” Voice makes the smart home smarter and easier to manage. Artificial intelligence, combined with machine learning, allows devices to set up an entire house to answer a user’s every cue. All it takes is a simple wake word or detectable sound.
Algorithms are often the “secret sauce” that distinguishes one voice control product from another, but this also leads to a lack of interoperability. Devices that don’t work well together make simple tasks more difficult and are a major source of consumer frustration. As the market matures, consumers will choose devices that can provide an integrated experience. To meet this demand, manufacturers must choose components, dev kits, and SDKs that support voice service interoperability so that customers can seamlessly interact with the service of their choice.
Aligning market groups to one standard, such as: Matter, will facilitate the deployment of smart devices in the home. Standards give users confidence that their chosen smart devices will work together reliably while taking the guesswork out of the purchase process. Ultimately, every consumer will have the option of a connected home that is secure and seamless.
The future of voice control will bring the freedom to speak voice commands without the need for a smart speaker nearby. With the right support, speech technology will easily become a primary method of communication.
Brian Crannell is Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Audio Solutions for Knowles Corporation.
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