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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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?

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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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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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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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