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Voice-Activated Tracker: Smart Home Edition

Nearly two decades ago, Disney debuted its “Smart House” movie in which a young boy wins a computerized home. At the time, it may have felt like making requests to home items were out of the ordinary and very futuristic.

Today, with the advancements made by companies like Google and Apple, voice-activated assistants have gone mainstream, and consumers use them for a variety of functions. From telling Alexa to play music to asking Siri what the weather is outside in the morning, people have welcomed these services into their daily lives.

Entering the home-related voice arena, and perhaps inching the smart home concept closer to a reality, is Microsoft’s Cortana. In partnership with  building maintenance company Johnson Controls, Cortana will be embedded in a new connected thermostat called GLAS.

Among its features, GLAS will be able to determine whether or not people are in a room and measure the internal air quality in the home. Neither Microsoft nor Johnson Controls has confirmed where this connected thermostat will be sold or its cost at this time, but there have been details surrounding the specifications. The touchscreen will allow people to check temperature, air quality, energy usage and calendar information, all by speaking to Cortana.

Smart refrigeration is getting a boost via Sears’ announcement that it will begin selling its appliances on Amazon. Specifically pertinent to the voice-activated market is that Sears’ Kenmore appliances will be fully integrated with Amazon’s Alexa.

Amazon’s director of Alexa Smart Home, Charlie Kindel, commented on the partnership in a Sears news release. “Voice is a natural interface for the smart home, so we’re thrilled that customers can now simply ask Alexa to interact with their Kenmore Smart appliances,” Kindel said. “We’re excited that Kenmore has added Alexa functionality to these products, and we think customers will love the convenience of cooling their home, starting their laundry, and more, using only their voice.”

In addition to smart appliances, today’s version of the smart home has drawn much of its power from smartphones.

Voice-activated news stemming from smartphones this week comes thanks to both Amazon’s Alexa and Samsung’s Bixby.

All Android phones and devices have just received the capability to interact with Alexa via voice commands similar to that of Siri. As long as people have the Amazon app installed on their phone, Alexa will be available to them. In addition to ordering items from Amazon through Alexa, people will be able to ask myriad questions related to other topics such as checking the weather,  adjusting smart home products and searching online.

Leading up to this week, we’ve been reporting on the upcoming release of Samsung’s voice-activated service Bixby. Since the company’s March announcement that Bixby was on the horizon, many have been anticipating it. It has been learning English for the last few months, and the launch day has finally arrived.

Samsung has just announced that Bixby is now ready for English speakers across the U.S. to its Galaxy S8 and S8+. Adding to the typical voice-assistant features, Bixby is also capable of grouping photos to share with friends and allows third-party apps to opt into its system for voice command. The latter feature has been so enticing that it has attracted the likes of Google and Facebook for future possible integrations to their apps. As such, it seems like Bixby is taking the lead over Siri in terms of innovation.

Injong Rhee, Samsung’s executive vice president and head of R&D software and services of its mobile communications business, commented in the company’s news release about its goals for Bixby. “There are over 10,000 functions on our smartphones, but each day, people may use less than five percent of them. The features on your phone are only useful if you know how to find them,” Rhee said. “Our goal with Bixby is to make it easier to use our phones, creating the best possible user experience for our customers. That’s why we created Bixby – an intuitive new way to do more things with your phone.”

Voice-activation technology is making it possible for more to get accomplished with a little less effort. Essentially, smartphones have become the remote control for today’s connected lives.

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