SAN JOSE, Calif. – New silicon and services are on the way to expand the emerging field of ambient computing Amazon pioneered with Alexa. New options may arrive this year from Google, Microsoft, Intel and perhaps Apple for devices with built-in voice interfaces linked to cloud services.
In a sign of how fast the field is moving, one startup claims it will support multiple machine-learning services “if not when we ship this summer, very soon afterwards,” said Aaron Emigh, founder and chief executive of Brilliant, which is building lighting controls that use Alexa and at least one other service.
“Microsoft and Google have services as well as voice recognition from Nuance…Samsung bought Viv–these companies are being snapped up pretty quickly–and Greylock is backing a startup called Ozlo,” Emigh said.
Dozens of developers showed Amazon’s Alexa service integrated in smart home products at CES in January. “That was the most remarkable thing I saw there, you could see [Amazon’s momentum] even at last year’s CEDIA,” he said.
Shawn DuBravac, chief economist with the Consumer Technology Association that hosts CES, estimates he saw hundreds of Alexa-enabled devices at the event from Fitbits to white goods such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. Voice is a new “faceless computing interface, a glue that binds together devices like a common operating system,” he said.
Belkin’s Linksys group last week enabled three Alexa services for more than 1.5 million users of its Wi-Fi routers. They let owners of Amazon Echo and Dot smart speakers check or share passwords for the access points.
For its part, Brilliant will roll out smart light switches that include LCDs believing a mix of voice and touch control will create a new style of ambient computing. Such products bring to life early visions of pioneers of what’s now widely called the Internet of Things–computers that disappear into the environment.
While Amazon’s Alexa dominates the space with an estimated eight million systems shipped, it’s still early days. “The future may look like many devices accessing many systems that are good at different things,” Emigh said.
So far Amazon’s OEM program is garnering praise from users and analysts, while Microsoft’s OEM program for Cortana is in a nascent stage. Google is said not to have launched yet a formal OEM program for the Google Assistant service in its Pixel phones.
Nuance has a voice recognition service to which it recently added machine-learning capabilities and partners, but it generally targets service providers, not OEMs. Just what Apple plans for its Siri service in the smart home could be revealed at the company’s annual developer conference in June.
In voice-recognition services accuracy varies, but “the APIs are similar, and pricing is in the same ballpark with Microsoft slightly cheaper, Nuance more expensive and Google in the middle,” Emigh said.
A Microsoft spokesman said its Cortana Devices SDK is currently in private preview and will be available more broadly later this year. Cortana also will be able available on Windows 10 IoT Core devices with displays.
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