Innovation

Voice-Activated Tracker: Debut Edition

HAL-9000 isn’t here just yet, but it sure can feel like it sometimes — especially when Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Assistant don’t cooperate. Though it’s not intentional AI sabotage … probably.

Voice-activation and spoken language processing aren’t just for half-dumb smartphone assistants anymore. The voice is increasingly becoming an important point of interface between humans and all machines. Voice technology is already in the IoT, it’s growing in the eCommerce space and its value as a biometric security feature has not been lost on developers and investors alike.

Major corporate technology players all recognize the value of the voice. Google, Amazon and Apple are investing in voice technology to create new value for their ecosystems, and all recognize how the voice can be applied to a variety of use cases, especially in commerce — more on that here. And consumers are largely responding positively. (The Amazon Echo is still sold out, for instance.)

So to keep tabs on the growing importance and influence of the voice across the board, find below the debut PYMNT’s voice-activated tracker.

Beginning this week’s tracker is a recent story that should excite fans of smart cars. In mid-December, the Amazon Alexa Fund — Amazon’s venture capital fund for voice technology innovation — and Deutsche Telekom led a $19 million CAD Series A round for Vancouver-based connected-car platform startup Mojio.

Mojio developed a connected-car platform that works with any car made in the last 20 years by plugging into the vehicle’s OBD port. Last year, Mojio launched its app marketplace that includes apps that expense trips, send out maintenance reminders and track cars’ locations. Mojio also developed one of the first Alexa skills for smart cars. With this current investment, the Alexa Fund is fueling Mojio’s second-generation Alexa Skills development.

Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon Alexa, said, “Alexa now has more than 6,000 skills, and what we hear from customers is that some of the most useful skills are those which connect people to everyday tasks. We’ve been impressed with Mojio’s innovation in the connected car space, and we’re excited to help them expand their capabilities and bring new, innovative skills to Alexa.”

In addition to developing new Alexa skills, Mojio will reportedly use the investment to fund expansion efforts in the U.S. and European markets.

Speaking of increasing functionality, Sony announced in late-December that a recent firmware update has enabled some of its speakers and 4K HDR TVs to work with Google Home. Users will be able to select music and videos to play using voice commands. The one caveat is that only Sony devices with Chromecast built in have been integrated thus far.

Google Home, Alphabet’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa, opened its platform to developers in late 2016 to increase the smart speaker’s functionality. Developers can build Conversation Actions for Google Home and request to become part of an early access partner program for upcoming platform features.

“Conversation Actions let you engage your users to deliver information, services and assistance. And the best part? It really is a conversation — users won’t need to enable a skill or install an app; they can just ask to talk to your action,” said Google.

Talking isn’t just for cars and speakers, though. As the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 kicked off in Las Vegas, Samsung unveiled a new line of smart cooking appliances and its Family Hub 2.0 refrigerator. The 1.0 model, released in May 2016, featured internal cameras, grocery ordering functionality, an embedded 21.5 inch LCD touchscreen and online connectivity. Samsung announced that the 2.0 model will also feature voice technology.

Family Hub 2.0 users will be able to use voice commands to access weather forecasts, time and calendar; schedule appointments; add products to shopping lists; and order groceries online in addition to controlling the other integrated fridge apps. Now that the 2.0 model has added voice functionality, it sounds similar to other IoT home assistant offerings from Amazon and Google — but with the added benefit of a vegetable crisper.

DISH Network is also working to get in the voice-activated game by leveraging some of Alexa’s skills. Starting sometime in the first half of 2017, DISH customers will be able to channel surf by pairing a broadband-connected Hopper DVR (any generation) with the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. DISH customers can ask Alexa to navigate, search and play TV content based on channel, title, actor and genre.

While competitor Comcast introduced voice capabilities in its remotes back in 2015, the DISH-Alexa pairing eschews the remote hardware altogether, enabling hands-free, voice-enabled channel surfing. It now seems only a matter of time before the remote is gone once and for all.

Additionally, this voice functionality means that millennials will have something to complain about to future generations when it comes to watching TV. (PYMNTS can just hear it now: “Back in my day, we had to lift a remote with our hand to change the channel.”)

All kidding aside, the above are just a few instances of where voice technology is today and where it’s going. Just a few days in, and 2017 is already shaping up to be a monumental year for voice. Expect to see a proliferation of voice-enabled features in payments, security, IoT and more in the coming 12 months and beyond.

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