Category: Home / building automation and security

Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

Send to Kindle

Google Nest thermostats to have HVAC fault notification

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

These Google Nest thermostats will be able to let you know if the heating or cooling is about to break down

Nest thermostats in the US and Canada can now monitor your HVAC system | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Behind the scenes with the new Nest Thermostat (Blog Post)

HVAC Monitoring from Google Nest (Support Article)

My Comments

Google has added a notification function to their range of Nest smart room thermostats to let you know if the heating or air-conditioning is failing.

This has been a side project of theirs as part of the main Nest Smart Thermostat effort but is now finished. It will be available not just to the latest Nest thermostats but also for older models installed in the US and parts of Canada. The functionality will only work with forced-air systems that we in Australia often refer to as “ducted” systems, most likely because they are the most common type of residential heating / cooling setup in the US.

The functionality detects anomalies in how quickly the home heats up or cools down to the temperature the thermostat is set at. For example, it will alert you if it is becoming colder or taking too long to heat up while the heating is actually on; or becoming warmer or taking too long to cool down when the air conditioning is actually on. This will usually highlight a failing air-distribution fan or the burner in a heating system not staying alight while needed.

As well, it monitors the HVAC system’s control circuitry to identify abnormal shutdown activity or whether it is actually on and working as intended. Here, it observes conditions where the gas-fired heating may intermittently fail to light up or stay alight for the duration of the heating cycle or the air-conditioning fails to start cooling or runs longer than expected,

You receive the reports via e-mail or the Google Home App or a “heads-up” alert can be indicated on the thremostat itself. In most cases, you will have to call out your HVAC technician to rectify the problem. The “early alerts” functionality can be of use if you have your HVAC technician service your system regularly so it is working reliably and safely for the seasons that matter.

At the moment, Google encourages the use of “Nest Pro” technicians who partner with them to supply and install the thermostats or the “Handy” tradespeople platform who partners with Google. This allows for you to book them to attend to your system at the times that suit you through these platforms.

Thanks to the use of standard heating/ventilation/air-conditioning wiring setups that the Google Nest thermostats use to interface with the heating and air-conditioning, there is no need for this kind of system-health monitoring to be dependent on the use of a particular brand, model or series of HVAC system. This factors in the reality that “durable” products like these systems are expected to last many years and there is the requirement to allow newer thermostats like these to work with the older systems that are still in service.

Here, what I am pleased about is the idea of Google allowing a smart thermostat to be able to alert you to your heating or cooling system being at risk of underperforming or failing to make it through the seasons that matter. Hopefully they will have this kind of functionality for other types of heating or cooling setup or available in other markets. I also see this as a direction for smart thermostats from other manufacturers to alert you to the state of your HVAC setup.

Send to Kindle

Sonos speakers to work with GE home appliances

Article

GE fridge and stove press image courtesy of GE Appliances

Network-capable GE appliances will be able to interlink with the Sonos multiroom audio platform for audio notification purposes

Sonos’ Speakers Can Now Work With General Electric’s Appliances | UberGizmo

GE teams with Sonos to let your smart appliances talk back | SlashGear

From the horse’s mouth

GE Appliances

GE APPLIANCES BRINGS SMART HOME NOTIFICATIONS TO SONOS SPEAKERS TO DELIVER AN INTEGRATED SMART HOME EXPERIENCE (Press Release)

My Comments

Two companies have been able to build a smart-home partnership with their products and platforms without needing the blessing of Amazon, Apple or Google.

Here, Sonos who have a multiroom audio platform for their speakers and for the IKEA Symfonisk speaker range, has partnered with GE Appliances to provide some sort of smart-appliance functionality.

This will initially work appliances that are part of the GE Appliances SmartHQ building-supplied appliance platform but will work across all GE appliances that can connect to your home network. At the moment it may apply to GE-branded appliances available within North America or based on North American designs but adapted for local conditions. That is with fridges with ice-makers capable of turning large “whiskey-friendly” ice blocks, or ovens capable of roasting a large Thanksgiving-size turkey.

The functionality that will appear is to use the Sonos speakers for audio-notification purposes such as alerting users that, for example, the washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has completed its cycle or the oven that you have set to preheat is up to temperature. It understands the nature of most “white goods” other than refrigeration where they are used to complete a process like washing clothes or dishes.

The classic example that most households face is a washing machine (and perhaps a clothes dryer) being used to process a large multiple-load run of laundry. Here the householder will want to know when the current cycle is finished so they can have the next load going with a minimum of delay.

What is being conceived here is that a multiroom audio platform can tie in with appliances without the need for either of these devices to work with a smart-speaker platform. Rather it is about the consumer-AV platform serving as a sentinel role for the appliances or fulfilling some other role in relation to them.

For these setups to work effectively, the industry needs to work towards using platforms like Open Connectivity Foundation and implement a device-class-level approach to integrating devices within the smart home. It then avoids certain vendors, usually Silicon Valley heavyweights, becoming gatekeepers when it comes to having devices work with each other in the smart-home context.

It then avoids the need for device vendors to strike deals with each other in order and implement particular software hooks to have any sense of interoperability within the smart home.

Send to Kindle

Amazon’s next generation of Echo devices to use edge computing

ArticlesAmazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

New Amazon Echo devices

Everything Amazon announced at its September event | Mashable

Amazon hardware event 2020: Everything the company announced today | Android Authority

Use of edge computing in new Echo devices

Amazon’s Alexa gets a new brain on Echo, becomes smarter via AI and aims for ambience | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Introducing the All-New Echo Family—Reimagined, Inside and Out (Press Release)

New Echo (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Dot (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Show 10 (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

My Comments

Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.

As well, all of these devices have the spherical look that conveys that retro-futuristic industrial-design style that was put forward from the 1950s to the early 1970s like with the Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner of the era or the Grundig Audiorama speakers that were initially designed in the 1970s thanks to the Space Race. You might as well even ask Alexa to pull up and play space-age bachelor-pad music from Spotify or Amazon Music through these speakers.

It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (Tiger and Panda) press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart

The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.

The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.

Amazon Echo Show 10 press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you

What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.

But Google was the first to implement this concept in a smart-speaker / voice-driven assistant use case. Here, they used it in the Nest Mini smart speaker to improve on the Google Assistant’s intelligibility of your commands.

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10

I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.

What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.

There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.

These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.

Send to Kindle

Amazon Alexa to support voice-activated printing

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon has improved on the way you can order documents to be printed via the Echo or Alexa-compatible device

Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Alexa

Introducing: Alexa Print (Product Page)

What Can I Print (Product Page with Key phrases)

My Comments

Initially, Amazon partnered with HP to offer voice-activated document printing. That is where you could ask Alexa to print out colouring pages, sudoku puzzles, ruled paper and the like. But this tied HP’s ePrint documents-on-demand ecosystem to the Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform and limited this feature to HP ePrint-capable network printers. Some other manufacturers then bound their online printing functionality to Amazon Alexa so as to provide some form of voice-driven printing functionality.

Brother DCP-J562DW multifunction printer positioning image

.. even through printers like this Brother DCP-J562DW multi-function printer

Now Amazon evolved this feature to work with any network printer that supports IPP-based driver-free printing. That is usually a machine that supports Apple AirPrint or the Mopria driver-free printing protocols, which encompasses most of the printers made over the last five years. Here, the documents would be held on or constructed by Amazon’s servers rather than on HP’s servers.

To get going, you have to say “Alexa, discover my printer” to get started. This would have your Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-capable device discover any network printer on the same logical network as itself. On the other hand, you could use the Alexa app to discover the printer. This would require you to tap the “+” icon then select “Add Device”, then choose “Printer” as the device class to add. It will list any compatible printers on your home network so you can add them.

The Alexa app gives you fine-grained control so you can rename printers like the “Upstairs printer” or “Kitchen printer”; or allow you to delete or disable discovery of specific machines.

Amazon has, at the moment, partnered with particular publishers to offer printable items and has set up some basic printable items like ruled paper, arithmetic worksheets and the like to get you going. There is the ability to turn out crosswords including their answers along with recipes, which may be a rough-shot.

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium business inkjet multifunction printer

.. or this HP OfficeJet 6700 desktop multifunction printer

It also ties in with the ability for you to use Alexa to buy first-party (genuine) ink or toner for your printer through their online storefront. Here, it will know which cartridges fit your machine, but the question is whether there will be the ability for you to specify standard-yield or high-yield consumables. That is because some manufacturers like HP and Brother offer their consumables in differing yield levels which may suit your needs or budget better.

At the moment, the number of printable resources will be limited until Amazon encourages Alexa Skills developers to build out Skills for this platform that support printing. Here, it could he things like asking for a rail timetable to be printed out or Amazon could even exploit Alexa Print to facilitate transactional printing like turning out tickets and boarding passes.

It will be interesting to see whether Google or Apple will bind the driver-free printing platforms that they own or partner with and their voice-driven assistant platforms to allow this kind of printing using them.

Send to Kindle

Amazon to get property managers on the Alexa bus

Article

Alexa for Residential lets landlords create smart apartments | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

A new, easy way for properties to add Alexa to residential buildings (Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

Amazon is wooing owners corporations, property managers, whole-building landlords and the like towards a customised Alexa experience for residential buildings.

This is expected to be about catering towards people who want the “smart home” within their rented apartment or condominium / strata-plan apartment. It will also be about courting the retirement living, supported accommodation and serviced apartment segments where there are people who support or provide services to residents who live in their own apartments.

This will involve the ability for a property manager or similar entity to purchase and deploy a fleet of pre-programmed Echo smart speakers that work with the pre-provisioned Wi-Fi network and smart-home devices. There will be the ability for these entities to have the Echo devices loaded with off-the-peg or custom Alexa Skills to suit the building’s and residents’ needs. Examples of these could include booking of communal facilities, paying rent or other dues, knowing when building-specific events are scheduled or providing feedback to the property manager or similar entity. It may also be about interlinking entryphone systems to the Alexa device so you can use it to communicate with your visitors and let them in if desired.

At the turnkey level, these Alexa devices will support what the property manager has pre-defined within them and support access to online information and audio services. But users can add their Amazon account to these devices to carry over all Alexa-platform customisations they have established to these speakers. That includes all of the Alexa Skills that the user is currently using with their Alexa platform devices.

As far as I know, these devices will keep users’ data away from the landlords or property managers, assuring some form of user privacy. For turnkey setups, the voice data is purged daily from the speakers, while a “brick wall” exists between the user’s Amazon account data and all pre-configuration data associated with the property. But there are still doubts about any IT service that the likes of Amazon, Google or Facebook offer due to their disdain for end-user privacy.

There will also be the ability for the property manager to remotely reset a device they are responsible for, something that would be important for whenever the residents move out. As well, there will be the ability to run custom skills while an apartment is vacant thus catering for things like guided tours or question-and-answer sessions for prospective tenants / purchasers.

A question that I would have regarding the Alexa for Residential platform is how this kind of setup would work with the “BYO Internet service” arrangement common in countries like Australasia, UK or Europe. It is where residents who are living in their apartments for the long term will choose and set up their own Internet service and home network rather than having their landlord, property manager or similar entity provide and set up this service. Here, it may be about having these devices able to work with the building’s services using the resident’s network and Internet service.

Similarly, how would it cope with residents installing additional Alexa-platform audio devices and wanting to “bind” them to both their own Amazon account and the Alexa For Residential deployment’s configurations. It may be about use of an additional Echo device in another room or to use something like the Echo Show in lieu of the standard Echo speaker that is part of the original setup. There may also be a requirement to support the concurrent use of two Amazon accounts for Alexa platform devices.

To the same extent, there would be the issue of residents bringing in smart appliances like lamps, A/V equipment, robotic vacuum cleaners and the like that suit their needs. In a lot of cases, it is about the users wanting to have their home how they want it and there may be expectations to have the resident-supplied equipment work as though it is part of the whole system.

At the moment, the Amazon Alexa for Residential platform needs to be worked out to answer different residential setup needs, especially to suit the needs of long-term residents.

Send to Kindle

Zoom now extends to popular smart-display platforms

Articles

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom video conferences will soon be able to take place on smart displays

Zoom Meetings Coming Soon to Smart Displays | Droid Life

Zoom video calls come to smart displays from Google, Amazon, and Facebook | Android Authority

Zoom expands to every major smart display as coronavirus keeps us home | CNet

From the borse’s mouth

Zoom

Zoom Expands to Smart Displays at Home (Blog Post)

My Comments

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

.. like the Amazon Echo Show

The COVID-19 coronavirus plague is increasing our use of Zoom as a multiparty videoconferencing platform especially for social and community purposes. This is thanks to measures in place to encourage social distancing and reduce travel to curb the spread of this virus. Zoom’s trademark for this service even ended up as a generic trademark word for a any multiparty videoconference just like one often referred to a common ballpoint pen as a biro.

But Zoom is primarily offered on most regular-computer and mobile-device platforms like Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. This is because these devices have integrated or accessory Webcams supported by their operating system and can take on software from third-party developers.

JBL Link VIew Press image courtesy of Harman International

… or Google-Assistant devices like this JBL Link View smart display

Recently Zoom tried out the idea of a dedicated videoconferencing appliance in the form of a 27” group videophone that can also be a display screen for a computer, TV set-top box or similar video peripheral. It is similar to previous efforts by smart-TV and video-peripheral vendors to provide Skype support if the device is equipped with an expensive accessory Webcam offered by the manufacturer.

But Zoom took a better step to partner with Google, Amazon and Facebook to integrate their platform in to the Amazon Echo Show smart displays, Facebook Portal smart display and smart displays running the Google Assistant (Home) platform. Here, these devices have the hardware that is needed to make or take videocalls i.e. a camera, microphone, screen and speakers. As well, the three vendors are more supportive of programming these devices to take on additional functionality.

These devices have some sort of videophone functionality built in to them through support for some other videoconference platforms: Skype and Amazon’s IP-telephony platform in the case of Amazon’s Echo Show devices; Google’s Duo and Meet in the case of Google-powered devices; and Facebook Messenger with its Rooms function as well as GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and WebEx in the case of the Facebook Portal. The addition of Zoom doesn’t displace the platform vendor’s own products or products the vendor has already licensed from other partners. As well, it recognises that different people and organisations tend to prefer working with particular videoconference platforms over others.

The Zoom software is engineered to take advantage of what the platforms offer including tying in with the platform’s native calendar function if you have linked your calendar to it, or joining a videoconference at your voice command. In the case of the Facebook device, you can tap the screen to join a meeting. All classes of Zoom account can be bound to these devices so you can use the account paid for by your work or school or a personal one you set up for free for social use.

This function will start to appear on most Facebook Portal devices in September then roll out across all the other smart-display platforms over October and November.

But why allow Zoom and similar videoconferences on a smart display or similar appliance? One reason is to have one device dedicated to the videoconference while you use another device to take notes or read supporting material for business, education or religion use cases. It may also be about the desire for an “appliance-simple” approach for making and taking videocalls, something that may be desired for older users who may find the process of creating or joining a multiparty videoconference daunting. As well, there is the encouragement to use an endpoint device that fits in with where it will be used such as the small smart displays that are typically installed in a kitchen or similar room.

What need to eventually happen is for Zoom and similar multiparty videoconferencing platforms to be part of connected-TV / set-top box platforms typically used for viewing Netflix or similar video-on-demand services on the big-screen TV. This is as long as the TV or set-top box can work with an accessory Webcam. As well, the device has to support multiple videoconferencing platforms, especially the common ones; while each platform has to offer a user interface suitable for 10-foot “lean-back” operation.

Here, such implementations, when done right, can be about the use of a big-screen TV as a group videophone for situations where the whole household participates in a videoconference like the many Zoom-based family or community video “catch-ups”.

Send to Kindle

You can prevent mistaken voice-assistant behaviour from your smart speakers

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The mute button on your Echo or other smart speaker is important if you want greater control over the voice assistant

You Should Mute Your Smart Speaker’s Mic More Often | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

An issue that will plague people who own smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home is the device interjecting with responses when you or someone else unintentionally say certain words.

This is because these devices are typically set up to listen all the time for a particular “wake word” that actually invokes the voice assistant. It is part of the machine-learning that drives these voice-assistant platforms to understand what you say.

But you can have some control over these smart speakers to avoid this behaviour. Each smart speaker or similar device will have a hardware mic-mute switch on them, highlighted with a microphone icon on that switch. This effectively turns the device’s microphones on or off as you need and the article recommended that if the device is too “hair-trigger”, you should enable this function unless you are actually intending to interact with the voice assistant. This procedure would be similar to how you would work a voice-driven personal assistant that is part of your smartphone’s operating system where you deliberately press a button on the device or a Bluetooth headset to invoke that assistant before you say the wake word.

Beware of the situation where the button will light up when you enable microphone muting on your smart speaker. Here this may be a point of confusion because some users may think that the device is “ready” to speak to when it is infact not able to take commands. You may have to be familiar with how your smart speaker looks when it is ready to accept commands, including any lights that are on.

If your voice-assistant platform has the function to “edit” what has been captured like what Amazon Alexa can do, this function can be used to fine-tune what the voice-assistant is meant to respond to. The same control app or Website can be used to manage your smart speaker’s microphone sensitivity or change the “wake command” that you say when you start interacting with the assistant.

They even recommend that you disconnect the smart-speaker device from the power if you don’t intend to use them. Privacy advocates even suggest doing that in areas where you value your privacy like your bedroom or bathroom.

But personally I would at least recommend that you are familiar with the hardware controls that exist on your smart speaker or similar device so you are able to have greater control over that platform.

Send to Kindle

The BBC to develop its own voice assistant for finding AV content

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The BBC is working on a voice-driven assistant of its own

BBC planning Alexa rival | Advanced Television

BBC’s Beeb voice assistant goes beta | Advanced Television

BBC launches voice assistant that will learn regional accents | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

British Broadcasting Corporation

What’s next for Beeb: The new voice assistant from the BBC (Press Release)

My Comments

The BBC have started work on the first voice-driven assistant platform that is designed in the UK and for British conditions. This platform is named Beeb which is one of the common affectionate nicknames for that public-service broadcaster.

It will be initially rolled out to UK participants of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program and is at beta stage, thus limiting it to use on regular computers at the moment. It is based on the BBC’s iPlayer content-directory effort and will be primarily about bringing up audio content like live and on-demand radio content, music or podcasts. It will also be able to bring forth local news and weather information.

UK Flag

… optimised for UK accents and likely to place the UK in the voice assistant sphere

There will even be the ability to respond from material written by BBC comedy writers when you ask for a joke, including the ability to ask for a joke from a particular show. This is thanks to the amount of intellectual property that they have built up over the years including all those legendary sitcoms and other comedy associated with British telly.

Beeb will be voiced with a male voice that has a northern English accent. As well, its initial setup will have the user determine what UK regional accent they have so it understands their accent better. This is part of an effort by the BBC to preserve local British accents in the face of other voice-driven assistants which force users to use standard British English pronunciation over regional accents.

There is an intent to roll it out to other devices which are software-programmable and it will also to be part of revisions to the iPlayer app and BBC Website. But personally, I see the BBC’s Beeb effort as a candidate for the Voice Interoperability Initiative driven by Amazon and Microsoft that allows a device to run with multiple voice assistants and respond to each assistant’s “wake word”. That is an activity that the BBC are infact a participant in.

Support for regional and local accents

But personally, I see the Beeb voice assistant as opening a path for UK companies to develop their own voice-driven assistants that respect UK language, dialects, accents and culture. It can also be an example of fine-tuning a voice-driven assistant platform to work with the various local accents and dialects used within a country or language and avoid steering the user towards what is seen as a standardised pronunciation for that language.

What will eventually need to happen would be to allow automatic detection of a user’s accent and to work with that accent automatically when they speak, rather than requiring a user to determine which accent they are using during setup. Having to determine which accent you are using during the setup phase can be a problem for households with members that come from different regions.

I would also see efforts like Beeb end up being about local-speech “modules” for voice-driven assistant platforms that enable these platforms to support a country’s or language’s local peculiarities when it comes to regular use. It will then avoid the need for people to resort to using “standard” diction rather than the accent they are comfortable with to deal with voice assistants. Similarly, it could be about different “voicings” that maintain local characteristics for the assistant’s speech.

Who knows what this could mean for making voice-driven assistants locally relevant?

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle