Category: Current and Future Trends

The two-box voice-driven home assistant setup is being made real with Bluetooth

Article

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 Bluetooth smart speaker press image courtesy of Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 2nd Generation Bluetooth smart speaker that works with a smartphone or similar devicce to benefit from Amazon Alexa

B&O Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) Announced With Alexa Integration | Ubergizmo

My Comments

At the moment, there is the latest generation of the Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset that implements a software link with the Google Assistant voice driven personal assistants through its own app. Now Bang & Olufsen have come up with the Beosound A1 Second Generation battery-operated Bluetooth speaker that has integration with the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

But what are these about?

Bluetooth smart speaker diagram

How the likes of the B&O Beosound A1 work with your smartphone, tablet or computer to be a smart speaker

These are purely Bluetooth audio peripherals that connect to your smartphone which links with the Internet via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. This is usually facilitated with a manufacturer-supplied app for that device that you install on your smartphone or tablet. You will also have to install the client software for the voice-driven assistant platform if your smartphone or tablet doesn’t have inherent support for that platform.

The Bose solution primarily used their app to “map” a secondary function button on the headset to activate Google Assistant. Then the B&O approach had the Beosound A1 and your smartphone or similar mobile-platform device work together as if it is an Amazon Echo.

Why do I see this as a significant trend for “smart-speaker” and allied device use cases, especially as Google, Amazon and the Voice Interoperability Initiative want to extend their voice-driven assistant platforms to setups based around Bluetooth audio peripherals. Here it underscores the reality that the highly-capable host devices will have Internet connectivity via a mobile-broadband connection or a local-area network.

One is to allow manufacturers to provide a highly-portable approach towards using Alexa or Google Assistant while on the move. Similarly, this approach will appeal to those in the automotive and marine infotainment sector with the idea of end-users bringing their own Internet connection with them while in their car or boat but wanting to use their preferred voice-driven assistant platform there.

Some technology manufacturers may look at the idea of a two-piece setup with a specially-designed Bluetooth speaker that links with a device that is normally connected to the Internet like a set-top box or router and both devices working in a smart-speaker capacity. Here, it can be about a cost-effective smart-speaker platform or to enable the use of battery-operated devices that use battery-efficient technologies.

After what Bose and B&O are doing, it could be about bringing the idea of a two-box smart-speaker setup for voice-driven assistant platforms opening up some interesting pathways.

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Keeping those videoconferencing platforms relevant beyond the pandemic shutdown

As various jurisdictions around the world are “peeling back” the various stay-at-home restrictions once they are sure they have the coronavirus plague under control in their territory, we could easily see our love for many-to-many videoconferencing wane. It can be more so when the barriers are fully down and we are confident about going out and about, or travelling long-distance.

But these many-to-many video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms do not need to be ignored once we can go out. It is more about keeping these platforms in continual relevance beyond the workplace and as part of personal and community life.

How can you keep these platforms relevant

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Are these multi-party video conferences going to die out when the all-clear to meet face-to-face and to travel is given?

Family and friends

Do you have members of your family or community who are separated by distance? Here, each family cluster who can meet up at a particular venue in their local area can implement Zoom, Skype or a similar platform to create a wide-area meetup amongst the clusters. It can also extend to remote members of that family or community using these platforms to “call in” and join the occasion.

This situation will be very real with us taking baby steps to getting back to what we used to do, including long-distance travel. Initially long-distance travel will be put off due to fears of newer coronavirus infections on crowded transport modes like economy-class airline cabins along with countries putting off opening their borders and enabling long-distance domestic travel until they are sure that the Covid-19 beast is under control.

If one of us moves to a place that is a long distance away like overseas or interstate, these videoconferencing platforms become even more relevant as a tool to “keep in touch with home”. For example, once that person has settled in to their home, they could use a smartphone, tablet or highly-portable laptop computer to take those of us who are “at home” on a tour of their new premises.

Similarly, an event like an engagement or “wetting the new baby’s head” that is typically celebrated by small groups of relatives or friends who get together to celebrate with a toast to the lucky couple or parents can be taken further. Here, these small clusters could effectively “join up” as part of a larger virtual cluster involving the people whom the occasion is about in order to celebrate together.

Education

For education, distance learning can continue to be made relevant especially for people who can’t attend the class in person. This includes underserved rural and remote communities, people who are in hospital and similar places or itinerant students. There can also be a blended-learning approach that can be taken where a class can both be face-to-face and remote.

Teachers can use videoconferencing to teach classes at the school even if they are home due to illness, caring for relatives or similar situations. It is important for those teachers who place value in curriculum continuity for their students no matter what. Foreign-language teachers who are engaging in personal travel to the country associated with the language they are teaching can use aspects of the trip for curriculum enrichment. With this they could “call in” to their classes at home from that country and engage with the country’s locals or demonstrate its local culture and idiosyncrasies.

A school’s student-exchange program can also benefit from videoconferencing by having remote exchange students able to “call in” to their home school. With this the students could share their experiences and knowledge about the remote location with their “home” class.

To the same extent, a school could link up with one or more guest speakers so that speaker can enrich the class with extra knowledge and experiences. It can even help those schools who can’t afford frequent field trips especially long-distance trips to be able to benefit from knowledge beyond the classroom.

Community Worship

In the worship context, videoconferencing technology can be about allowing mission workers to call their home church and present their report to their home congregation by video link. It can even appeal towards multiple-campus churches who want to be part of these video links.

This technology is still relevant to those small Bible-study / prayer / fellowship groups that are effectively smaller communities within a church’s community. Here, these groups could maintain videoconferencing as a way to allow members separated from the group on a temporary basis to effectively “call in” and participate during the meetups. In some cases where one of these groups becomes too large that they “break up” to smaller groups, they could implement the many-to-many videoconferencing technologies to host larger group meetups on an occasional basis.

Of course there are the key occasions that are part of a religious community’s life like the weddings or funerals. Here, it could be feasible to provide a video link-up so that people who can’t attend the services associated with these events in person due to ill-health or long-distance can view them on line.

As well, the supporting parties associated with these events can become global shared celebrations comprising of multiple local celebration clusters using video-link technology. This is more so with families and communities who are split up by distance but want to celebrate together.

Other community organisations who thrive on being close-knit could easily see the multi-party video-conference as being relevant especially for members who are far-flung from where they usually meet. As well, those who have presence in multiple geographic areas can exploit the likes of Zoom or Skype to make ad-hoc virtual meetings that don’t cost much to organise.

What can be done

Increased support for group videocalling on the big screens

If a mobile-platform vendor has an investment in their mobile platform along with a set-top-box platform (that’s you, Apple with your iOS and Apple TV, and Google with your Android and Chromecast), they could work towards enabling their set-top platform towards group videophone functionality.

Here, this idea would require the smartphone or tablet, which has the contact list and the user-interface for the videocalling platforms like Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger; to be able to manage the calls while a camera attached to the top of the TV is linked to the set-top box which works with the videocalling platform as a screen, camera, speakers and microphone.

I wrote in a previous article about this idea and the two ways it can be done. One of these is to have a lean software interface in both devices that link the smartphone to the set-top box and have the caller’s face and voice on the TV with the camera linked to the set-top box bringing your face and voice to the caller. The smartphone would then run the videocalling platform, allowing the user to control the call from that device.

The other is to have the videocalling platform software on the set-top box with the ability to use the smartphone to manage accounts, callers and the like from its surface. This is similar to how DIAL is being used by Netflix and YouTube to permit users to “throw” content from smartphones or computers to smart TVs and set-top devices equipped with client software for these platforms.

Conclusion

The videoconferencing platforms of the Zoom, Skype and Facebook Messenger Rooms ilk can be of use beyond the pandemic shutdown, serving as a way to bridge distance and bring communities together.

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An unmanaged Ethernet switch engineered for media streaming now available

Article

English Electric 8Switch audiophile Ethernet switch press picture courtesy of The Chord Company

English Electric 8Switch audiophile Gigabit Ethernet switch

English Electric’s NEW 8Switch Audiophile Ethernet Switch | Audio Bacon

From the horse’s mouth

English Electric

8Switch (Product Page)

My Comments

I have covered on HomeNetworking01.info the fact that the home network is being considered part of the home audio and video scene, even in the context of high-end applications where excellence is considered paramount. This is due to the rise of  audio-video content-streaming services including Spotify and Internet radio; along with the use of DLNA/UPnP-AV to facilitate the use of network-attached storage devices to share multimedia with dedicated home AV equipment. Have a look at these articles, and this one highlighting the Naim NDX audiophile network media player in order to see what I am about with this trend.

Naim NDS network audio player

… fit or audiophile network media players like the Naim NDX and NDS network media players

In the UK, where there is a significant small industry around esoteric hi-fi, a company has come forward with an unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch optimised for streaming multimedia, especially high-end music content. It is one of the first network-infrastructure devices targeted to the home or other small networks that is optimised for this purpose.

English Electric, a historic electrical-engineering brand resurrected by the Chord audiophile hi-fi connections brand, has answered the reality of the home network being part of a hi-fi setup. This is due to streaming content services like Internet radio, Spotify and Tidal along with the use of NAS units and DLNA-compliant network media players to play master-quality audio files through hi-fi setups.

Dish Joey 4K set-top box press picture courtesy of Dish Networks America

or set-top boxes and smart TVs associated with Netflix and similar online video services

This switch, known as the 8Switch, has been engineered for high data-packet reliability and resistance to electrical noise and mechanical vibration.

It uses a power supply of a similar standard to what would be used to power medical equipment in a hospital which is about providing clean reliable smooth power to the device while keeping AC-borne electrical interference out of the circuitry and network. The aluminium housing is designed to isolate the circuitry from surrounding mechanical vibration to assure reliable operation. Even the Ethernet sockets are optimised for high reliability and low noise in order to satisfy demanding audiophile/multimedia applications.

The clock circuitry that sequences the flow of data through the switch is specially optimised for real-time media streaming. This is thanks to a highly-optimised custom-designed crystal oscillator that assures high accuracy and reduced electrical noise, which yields reduced jitter and packet loss.

At the moment, the English Electric 8Switch is available in the UK for GBP£450 and is being sold through some UK-based hi-fi boutiques who sell Chord high-end audio cables. They will even throw in one of Chord’s audiophile/multimedia-grade Ethernet patch cords so you can connect it to your home network or a network AV component with the right cable.

Chord initially pitches the English Electric 8Switch being pitched to be used as a regional switch to interlink a cluster of network-enabled AV components include a NAS like a ripping NAS used primarily for storing multimedia content. It would be uplinked to your existing home-network router for Internet access when it comes to using streaming services or the rest of your home network.

I also see it of benefit for small-business and community-organisation audio/video setups that are heading towards using IP networks as an interconnection method. This would include those churches heading towards online livestreaming of services or small production teams using the latest network-based audio-video technology. It can even appeal to broadcast-LAN subsystems like Sat>IP where you are using multiple devices and want assured reliability for your devices’ network connection.

The English Electric 8Switch is another example of a home-network Ethernet switch that has been designed for a specific niche and devices like this could pave the way for companies to design network-infrastructure hardware that answer these specific needs.

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Intel to make graphics driver updates independent of PC manufacturer customisations

Article

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake

Laptops with Intel graphics infrastructure like this Dell XPS 13 will benefit from having any manufacturer-specific customisations to the graphics driver software delivered as a separate item from that drive code

Intel graphics drivers can now be updated separately from OEM customizations | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Intel

Intel Graphics – Windows 10 DCH drivers (Latest download site)

My Comments

Intel is now taking a different approach to packaging the necessary Windows driver software for its graphics infrastructure. This will affect any of us who have Intel graphics infrastructure in our computers, including those of us who have Intel integrated-graphics chipsets working alongside third-party discrete graphics infrastructure in our laptops as an energy-saving measure.

Previously, computer or motherboard manufacturers who wanted to apply any customisations to their Intel integrated-graphics driver software for their products had to package the customisations with the driver software as a single entity. Typically it was to allow the computer manufacturer to optimise the software for their systems or introduce extra display-focused features peculiar to their product range.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

.. even if the Intel graphics architecture is used as a “lean-burn” option for high-performance machines like this Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop when they are run on battery power

This caused problems for those of us who wanted to keep the driver software up-to-date to get the best out of the integrated graphics infrastructure in our Intel-based laptops.

If you wanted to benefit from the manufacturer-supplied software customisations, you had to go to the manufacturer’s software-support Website to download the latest drivers which would have your machine’s specific customisations.

Here, the latest version of the customised drivers may be out-of-step with the latest graphics-driver updates offered by Intel at its Website and if you use Intel’s driver packages, you may not benefit from the customisations your machine’s manufacturer offered.

The different approach Intel is using is to have the graphics driver and the customisations specific to your computer delivered as separate software packages.

Here, Intel will be responsible for maintaining their graphics-driver software as a separate generic package which will have API “hooks” for any manufacturer-specific customisation or optimisation code to use. Users can pick this up from the Intel driver-update download site, the manufacturer’s software update site or Windows Update. Then the computer manufacturer will be responsible for maintaining the software peculiar to their customisations and offering the updates for that software via their support / downloads Website or Microsoft’s Windows Update.

It may be seen as a two-step process if you are using Intel’s and your computer manufacturer’s Websites or software-update apps for this purpose. On the other hand, if you rely on Windows Update as your driver-update path, this process would be simplified.

The issue of providing computer-specific customisations for software drivers associated with computer hardware subsystems will end up being revised after Intel’s effort. This will be more so with sound subsystems for those laptops that have their audio tuned by a name of respect in the audio industry, or common network chipsets implemented in a manufacturer-peculiar manner.

At least you can have your cake and eat it when it comes to running the latest graphics drivers on your Intel-based integrated-graphics-equipped laptop.

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Moving towards a converged smart-home experience

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

The smart home is moving towards a converged approach for managing the many protocols associated with controlling devices like these room thermostats

Interoperability: CHoIP, Zigbee, Z-Wave, OCF } Parks Perspectives (Parks Associates)

My Comments

There are at least four key smart-home standards (CHoIP, Zigbee, Z-Wave and Open Connectivity Foundation) that work across multiple levels of the protocol stack for this kind of usage. Most of these have backing from some of Silicon Valley’s big names like Amazon, Apple and Google and some will work on particular low-power wireless transports like Zigbee and Z-Wave.

The problem that will come about is the apparent disparity between these standards both at transport / media layers and at the higher layers like the application layer. What will come about is to achieve software-level convergence between the various standards, typically to provide some sort of logical interlinking between them.

This will be worked on for both device-to-device and cloud-to-cloud use cases. The former arrangement would best describe where a device like a sensor or control device is simply reporting to another device like a heating system while the latter would describe setups that liaise with online services but could represent multiple smart-home systems within the same property.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

It is more so as smart speakers of the Amazon Echo kind become part of the smart home

A question that will come up is having a standard to logically identify devices by their function, capabilities and attributes in a consistent manner no matter the protocol and vendor. This includes exchanging commands, status reports and events between the devices and others dependent on them.

As well the reality for most of us would be to “start small” and build out a smart-home setup. This may involve dealing with room-based or function-based logical clusters with multiple endpoint devices reporting to cluster-based “hub” devices. In this situation, these “hubs” may end up having to share information with each other to have the setup work as a larger one.

A good example of this may be a smart speaker based on a particular voice-driven home assistant platform that also has home-automation hub functionality being brought in to one’s home even while there is the home-automation central unit facilitated by the end-user’s telco as part of a multiple-play Internet-service deal already in service.

The same situation will also come about with smart-home devices having increased processing power and being able to do more; as well as factoring in a mix of older and newer devices that satisfy particular needs.

What I see that could be happening is the creation of a few shared-code or open-source software stacks that encompass the main home-automation protocols. It will then allow for a wider net to be cast when it comes to developing those smart-home solutions due to the ability for software developers to concentrate on the “rest of the package” for their solution without “reinventing the wheel”.

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Smart speakers and broadcast radio

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are outselling traditional radios

The traditional radio broadcast industry are finding that the smart speaker as a threat to their business models.

This is because that there are more Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar smart speakers being bought than traditional radio sets. It is in addition to us using smartphones that don’t have traditional broadcast-radio tuners as our “go-to” information and entertainment devices.

Although these smart speakers can, at your voice command, pull up a traditional radio station thanks to TuneIn or similar Internet-radio directories, an increasing number of users are using them to summon podcasts or music playlists through the various podcast and music-on-demand services.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – an example of how to keep the traditional radio relevant

At the moment, traditional radio whether through traditional broadcast technology or Internet streaming is primarily being listened to in the car or at businesses we frequent. It is also being seen, whether for information or entertainment, as a valid casual-listening content-source by Generation X (people born from the late 60s to the early 80s) and prior generations thanks to it being seen that way for a long time. This is due to the ubiquity of increasingly-affordable radio sets in many different form factors along with radio stations making a strong effort to keep listeners tuned to their output.

It is although advertisers and others have seen and are seeing the younger generations as “where the money is”. Here, they end up sponsoring podcasts or playlists to reach that audience with their message in order to stay relevant.

ABC Radio Podcasts

The ABC, like other traditional broadcasters, are offering their own podcasts, whether to do with an existing radio show or not

But what can be or is being done about this? At the moment, traditional radio stations are creating podcasts, whether as a byproduct of an existing radio show or as a new product. Similarly as I have experienced, most radio stations are planting their regular broadcast output on the Internet and making sure this still happens so as to work with smartphones and smart speakers. It is even though they face battles with music rightsholders and sporting leagues about international streaming rights for music or sports content.

RadioDNS “hybrid radio” has surfaced as a way to bring together traditional radio and the Internet. The key method offered by this platform is through a “single-dial” approach that provides a seamless handover between local radio frequencies / DAB multiplex locations and Internet streams for the same radio station.

Revo Domino Internet radio tuned in to Heart London

This Internet radio is tuned in to Heart London and is playing the same audio as what would be delivered on FM or DAB from the “Turn Up The Feel Good” station within the London area

Reliance on Internet audio streams as often done with smart speakers and smartphones can be problemsome if you don’t have the right kind of network and Internet connection. This represents the typical home or small-business network connected behind most home / small-business routers.

You will run in to problems with setting up a smart speaker or similar device to work with a headline public-access / guest-access Wi-Fi network that depends on Web-based authentication or having these devices work with an enterprise-grade network that uses per-device-based authentication approaches. It also includes dealing with mobile broadband services that charge an arm and a leg for continual bandwidth use but services that operate in a highly-competitive market may make this factor easier.

TuneIn Android screenshot

The stations listed on the TuneIn Internet radio app are the Internet-hosted simulcast stream of their regular radio output

Similarly broadcast-radio technology tends to appeal to listenership on battery-operated devices because the technology associated with it is optimised to work for battery efficiency. It is due to the broadcast-radio technology working on a one-way approach to receiving the radio signals rather than being dependent on a two-way transceiver demanded of Wi-Fi or mobile-broadband.

What can be done to bridge these technologies

One approach would be to have an Internet radio that also receives radio content via broadcast technologies work with at least one of the common voice-driven home assistant platforms.

This can be in the form of the radio working alongside a smart speaker based on the common platforms and using RadioDNS to pull up local radio stations under voice control.

An Internet radio can also serve as a speaker for online audio resources like on-demand music services, podcasts and Internet radio especially if the radio doesn’t have network-audio / Internet-radio functionality. The latter concept is being underscored with the Google Assistant platform where you can direct audio from an online-audio service to a device that supports the Google Chromecast protocol. Even if the radio has network-audio / Internet-radio functionality, it could be part of a voice-driven home-assistant platform, which a lot of manufacturers are heading towards and can be of relevance for the “big sets” like hi-fi systems and the network multiroom audio platforms.

A cheaper option could implement RadioDNS across a Bluetooth link with the voice-driven home assistant platform handling the RadioDNS logic. It may require the creation of a Bluetooth profile for sending RadioDNS-specific data between the radio and the smart speaker’s platform i.e. a set-appropriate pointer to the station on the broadcast bands.

It can also be about an Internet-radio / smart-speaker combination device, like the many combination devices available over the years that integrated radio reception and at least one other function. Such a set would have the ability to be an Internet radio but it would have a microphone array and a button to activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, whereupon you would have the full “smart speaker” abilities of an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. As well, it would tie in with the RadioDNS functionality to pull up stations on the local wavebands as if you are pulling them up using the assistant’s Internet-radio functionality.

Conclusion

To keep the classic radio medium going, the manufacturers, broadcasters and other stakeholders need to look at whatever technologies can be used to make it relevant in this day and age.

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Sonos dumps the device-bricking Recycle Mode

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage Sonos multiroom system press picture courtesy of Sonos

The Sonos debacle has raised questions about our personal tech’s life cycle

My Comments

In January, Sonos introduced the “Recycle Mode” which effectively disabled your Sonos network-multiroom-audio device after a certain number of days. It was seen as a way to detach the device from your Sonos-based network-multiroom-audio setup and wipe all of your data out of the device when you relinquish it to an e-waste recycling facility.

It was part of them establishing an end-of-feature-support rule for their older devices made prior to 2015 due to newer faster processing silicon in the newer devices. That is where older devices will only receive software-quality updates and won’t benefit from any newer functionality that Sonos releases.

But there is a reality with this kind of equipment where it is effectively “pushed down” to secondary areas as a way to build out that Sonos audio setup. As well, people do give the equipment away to family, friends and community organisations they are a part of, or sell the equipment through the second-hand market where those of us “putting our foot in the Sonos door” may buy this equipment at a cheaper price.

The social-media users were concerned about the use of that “Recycle Mode” which disabled the Sonos equipment due to it not being available for giving away or selling to the second-hand market. Sonos have answered this issue by removing the “Recycle Mode” and requiring users who are done with a particular piece of Sonos equipment to perform a factory-reset procedure (Sonos instructions) on that unit.

It is a procedure you may do if the equipment is faulty and you want to bring it to a “known quantity” as part of troubleshooting it. But performing this procedure before you relinquish the equipment effectively detaches it from your Sonos account and multi-room audio system while removing any personal configuration data from it including parameters associated with your home network.

They still have to address the issue of a Sonos audio setup consisting of legacy and newer equipment and what happens when newer features come out. The problem still raised is the fact that older equipment would preclude modern equipment from receiving functionality updates. It is although a Sonos multiroom setup will benefit from software-quality updates even if it cannot receive functionality updates.

As well, they would need to address what happens when an online media service revises their software links that enable access to their service via consumer-electronics devices. Would a software update to accommodate this revision be considered a feature-update or a software-quality update whether the result is to provide the same functionality as before or accommodate the service’s new features?

What is being called out is how a high-value network-media device with an expectedly-long service life should he maintained through its service life. It includes how long should it be supported for and what should happen towards its end-of-support time.

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Google Nest Mini uses edge computing to improve search performance

Articles

Google Nest Mini smart speaker press picture courtesy of Google

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker – a follow on from the Home Mini smart speaker and having its own local processing to improve Google Assistant’s responsiveness

Google Nest Mini gets louder and gains onboard Assistant processing | SlashGear

Google debuts Nest Mini with wall mount and dedicated ML chip | VentureBeat

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Nest Mini

Nest Mini brings twice the bass and an upgraded Assistant (Product Blog Post)

My Comments

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker, which is the successor to the Google Home Mini smart speaker, shows up a significant number of improvements including a richer sound. But it has also come about with the idea of locally processing your voice commands for better Google Assistant performance.

The traditional approach to processing voice commands that are said to a smart speaker or similar device is for that device to send them out as a voice recording to the cloud servers that are part of the voice-driven assistant platform. These servers then implement their artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technology to strip background noise, interpret the commands and supply the appropriate replies or actions back to that device.

But Google has improved on this by using a leaf out of the book associated with edge-computing technology. This is where some of the data storage or processing is performed local to the user before the data is sent to a cloud computing system. Here, Google uses a dedicated machine-language processor chip in their Nest Mini smart speaker to do some of the command processing before sending data about the user’s command to the Google Assistant cloud system.

It reduces the idea of your Google Nest Mini smart speaker being a simple conduit between your home network and the Google Assistant cloud. The key benefit is that you see a quicker response from the Google Assistant via that device. You also have the benefit of reducing the Internet bandwidth associated with handling the voice-driven home assistant activity, avoiding reduced performance for online gaming or multimedia streaming.

Google is working on taking this further with having Google-Assistant-based devices that have this kind of local processing process logic associated with user requests and programmable actions locally. It also includes keeping the logic associated with the Assistant liaising with other smart devices local to your home network, allowing for improvements to performance, user privacy and data security.

It could be seen by Amazon and others as a way to improve the performance of their voice-driven home-assistant platforms. This is more so where the competition between these platforms becomes more keen. As well, there could be a chance for third-party Google Assistant (Home) implementations to look towards using local processing to improve the Assistant’s response.

An issue that will crop up is having multiple devices that have this kind of local processing existing on the same home network help each other to increase the voice-driven assistant’s performance. This can also include using a software approach to make the devices equipped with the local processing provide improved performance for those that don’t have this processing. It will be an issue with the likes of Google Nest Mini and similar entry-level devices that appeal to the idea of having many installed around the house, along with the idea of equipping smart displays with this kind of local processing.

What I see of this is that the use of edge-computing technology is coming to the fore as far as improving responsiveness in the common voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

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Using Google Assistant as part of an in-home-care service

Article

The Google Home now part of ageing-at-home and working with a home healthcare service

Feros Care plugs into Google Assistant to boost seniors’ independence | IT News]

My Comments

The technology industry is working on making themselves relevant to the “ageing-at-home” sector where senior citizens, including the ageing Baby Boomer population, can live in their own homes or in supported accommodation but preserve their own privacy and dignity. But the goal of improved dignity for these seniors includes using the technology that doesn’t look out of place in an ordinary home environment.

This system, ran by Feros Care, implements Google Assistant technology as a base platform and uses Google Home smart-speaker devices as a voice-driven interface with the client who the agency is looking after. It also facilitates visual display through the Android TV smart-TV platform and the Google Home Hub smart display.

This is facilitated through the development of Google Actions and DialogFlow natural-language processing with some custom application-programming-interface (API) software “hooks” to work with the agency’s MyFeros IT portal. It provides the client access access to details about carer appoints, further assistance amongst other things while the MyFeros portal captures service-provider to client interactions.

It is more about allowing senior citizens who use this agency for assisted living to manage their experience with the agency themselves and maintain their independence.

The use of the Google Home / Assistant voice-interaction technology can work around situations where the senior has had a fall and cannot gain access to the phone to summon help. Similarly it works well when they are recovering in bed and don’t have a tablet or phone at their bedside. The Android TV / Home Hub smart-TV technology can be used to show up visual information like details of alternate carers who are “filling in” for a regular carer who is ill or on leave and cannot attend

Even smart-lock technology is coming in to play in order to allow staff who are rostered on to care for a particular client access to that client’s home for the duration of their shift. This is due to older people with limited mobility taking a long time to reach their front door to admit the carer in to their home. The smart-lock integration will also work in hand with “visit-verification” requirements that will be demanded within the home-based healthcare industry thanks to various health-insurance or public-healthcare requirements.

Feros Care underscores that the technology is not about staff efficiency and productivity by to serve the needs of their service’s end-users and protect their dignity and independence.

But what I like about this approach is that they aren’t reinventing the wheel in implementing this technology and having to implement new devices for their field of work. Rather they use common “horizontal-market” technology like Google-Home-compatible smart speakers and smart displays compliant with Google’s smart-display technologies – such equipment able to be purchased “off the shelf” at any consumer electronics outlet and blend in to an ordinary home.

I also see Feros Care in a position to offer the necessary software logic as a “white-label” solution for all sorts of home healthcare agencies, supported-housing facilities and the like who want to implement it in their client-carer IT-portal setups. But there will be issues like adapting to other consumer-focused voice-driven home assistant platforms like Alexa, along with making it work with the widest range of home-automation devices.

Here, it is about implementing whatever common home-networking technology as part of assisted-living simply through using software to provide this kind of integration.

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Reverse image searching–a very useful tool for verifying the authenticity of content

Tineye reverse image search

Tineye – one of the most popular and useful reverse image search tools

Article

How To Do A Reverse Image Search From Your Phone | PCMag

My Comments and further information

Increasingly, most of us who regularly interact with the Internet will be encouraged to perform reverse-image searches.

This is where you use an image you supply or reference as a search term for the same or similar images on other Internet resources. It can also be about identifying a person or other object that is in the image.

Increasingly this is being used by people who engage in online dating to verify the authenticity of the person whom they “hit” on in an online-dating or social-media platform. It is due to romance scams where “catfishing” (pretending to be someone else in order to attract people of a particular kind) is part of the game. Here, part of the modus operandi is for the perpetrator to steal pictures of other people that match a particular look from photo-sharing or social-media sites and use these images in their profile.

It also is being used as a way to verify the authenticity of a product being offered for sale through an online second-hand-goods marketplace like eBay, Craigslist or Gumtree. It also extends to short-term house rentals including AirBnB where the potential tenant wants to verify the authenticity of the premises that is available to let.

As well, reverse image searching is being considered more relevant when it comes to checking the veracity of a news item that is posted online. This is very important in the era of fake news and disinformation where online images including doctored images are being used to corroborate questionable news articles.

How do you do a reverse image search?

At the moment, there are a few reverse-image-search engines that are available to use by the ordinary computer user. These include Tineye, Google Image Search, Bing Visual Search, Yandex’s image search function and Social Catfish’s reverse-image-search function.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

A regular computer like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 makes it easier to do a reverse image search thanks to established operating system and browser code and its user interface.

The process of using these services involves you uploading the image to the service including using “copy-and-paste” techniques or passing the image’s URL to an address box in the search engine’s user interface. The latter method implies a “search-by-reference” method with the reverse-image-search site loading the image associated with that link into itself as its search term.

Using a regular desktop or laptop computer that runs the common desktop operating systems makes this job easier. This is because the browsers offered on these platforms implement tabs or allow multiple sessions so you can run the site in question in one tab or window and one or two reverse-image-search engines in other tabs or windows.

These operating systems also maintain well-developed file systems and copy-paste transfer algorithms that facilitate the transfer of URLs or image data to these reverse-image-search engines. That will also apply if you are dealing with a native app for that online service such as the client app offered by Facebook or LinkedIn for Windows. As well, Chrome and Firefox provide drag-and-drop support so you can drag the image from that Tinder or Facebook profile in one browser session to Tineye running in the other browser session.

But mobile users may find this process very daunting. Typically it requires the site to be opened and logged in to in Chrome or Safari then opened as a desktop version which is the equivalent of viewing it on a regular computer. For Chrome, you have to tap on the three-dot menu and select “Request Desktop Site”. For Safari, you have to tap the upward-facing arrow to show the “desktop view” option and select that option.

Then you open the image in a new tab and copy the image’s URL from the address bar. That is before you visit Google Image Search or Tineye to paste the URL in that app’s interface.

Google has built in to recent mobile versions of Chrome a shortcut to their reverse-image-search function. Here, you “dwell” on the image with your finger to expose a pop-up menu which has the “Search Google For This Image” option. The Bing app has the ability for you to upload images or screenshots for searching.

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

Share option in Google Chrome on Android

If you use an app like the Facebook, Instagram or Tinder mobile clients, you may have to take a screenshot of the image you want to search on. Recent iOS and Android versions also provide the ability to edit a screenshot before you save it thus cutting out the unnecessary user-interface stuff from what you want to submit. Then you open up Tineye or Google Image Search in your browser and upload the image to the reverse-image-search engine.

How can reverse image searching on the mobile platforms be improved

What can be done to facilitate reverse image searching on the mobile platforms is for reverse-image-search engines to create lightweight apps for each mobile platform. This app would make use of the mobile platform’s “Share” function for you to upload the image or its URL to the reverse-image-search engine as a search term. Then the app would show you the results of your search through a native interface or a view of the appropriate Web interface.

Share dialog on Android

A reverse-image-search tool like Tineye could be a share-to destination for mobile platforms like iOS or Android

Why have this app work as a “share to” destination? This is because most mobile-platform apps and Web browsers make use of the “share to” function as a way to take a local or online resource further. It doesn’t matter whether it is to send to someone else via a messaging platform including email; obtain a printout or, in some cases, stream it on the big screen via AirPlay or Chromecast.

The lightweight mobile app that works with a reverse-image-search engine answers the reality that most of us use smartphones or mobile-platform tablets for personal online activity. This is more so with social media, online dating and online news sources, thanks to the “personal” size of these devices.

Conclusion

What is becoming real is reverse image searching, whether of particular images or Webpages, is being seen as important for our security and privacy and for our society’s stability.

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