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Among the fastest growing verticals in the smart home space is the smart appliance market. However, much of this growth hinges on adding voice control technology. Voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistants — where the consumer uses their voice to direct, control or engage with technology — are on trend to become the primary method for communicating with devices.
Don’t lift a finger: AI-driven voice commands are the future of the smart home
Voice control: Give the people what they want
Consumers, who are used to having answers at the tip of their fingers, have easily (and eagerly) adjusted to using their voice. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has made the transition seamless. Like web and mobile, voice is now transforming from just another interface into a distinct consumer channel. It is estimated that by 2024 the number of voice assistants will reach a staggering 8.4 billion, overtaking the world’s population. Further, the Voice Consumer Index 2021 surveyed technology users and found that one-third use voice technology daily. It is clear that voice technology is increasingly becoming an essential part of our day-to-day lives. The addition of voice user interfaces (VUIs) to appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, will only further accelerate the trend within the home.
AI around the home
Homes and devices are becoming more sophisticated and thus more difficult to operate seamlessly. Many appliances have deep feature sets that most users never access, thanks to the difficulty of the interface. With voice control, users don’t have to struggle with the microwave’s touchpad; they can simply say what they’re cooking and even save presets for favorite dishes. Users can tell the washing machine to be careful with delicate items, tell the kitchen faucet to fill a glass with water, and even tell the trash can to open itself when their hands are full.
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While voice control is present today mainly on smart speakers and mobile devices, voice is prepared to go beyond that. Hardware and software advancements are making voice control practical for virtually any type of product. Industry efforts to increase voice service interoperability, or a device’s ability to support multiple voice assistants, can also be supported through design. Discreet or even invisible systems can be embedded into appliances, and new systems have immediate response times without cloud latency.
The next iteration of voice control products will see increased integration of voice into standalone products that operate in different areas around the home. Some of these devices will utilize cloud technologies for their back-end intelligence, while others will keep interactions local at the edge. A new generation of sophisticated use cases awaits.
Voice control for everyone
While every product is ready to host voice technology, there are still hurdles VUIs need to conquer before becoming equally useful for absolutely everyone.
One such hurdle is the need to accurately and consistently respond to people of different ages, with different dialects or speech disabilities. Thanks to machine learning, edge devices will become even more intelligent and useful over time. New systems will be able to better distinguish between different household voices, opening up new levels of personalization and security. Professional organizations like Black in AI, Women in Machine Learning and Women in Voice are working to increase the representation of diverse voices in AI, voice technology and machine learning. Organizations such as these will ultimately lead to greater innovation and inclusivity.
Users also need more support from brands in order to learn all that voice technology can do for them. Most users are simply stumbling upon voice experiences. Per the Voice Consumer Index 2021, many figure out how to have voice work for their household through basic trial-and-error, followed by tapping into relatives and friends, and then checking product packaging and websites. People want to do more with their voice assistants but are limited. Education is key to giving consumers what they already desire.
AI-powered voice brings it all together
Voice is the unified method of control that helps all of these various devices work “together.” Voice makes the smart home smarter and easier to manage. Artificial intelligence, combined with machine learning, empowers devices to make an entire home ready to answer a user’s every beck and call. All that’s needed is a simple wake word or detectable sound.
Algorithms are often the “secret sauce” that differentiates one voice control product from another, but this also leads to lack of interoperability. Devices that fail to work well together make simple tasks more difficult and are a top reason for consumer frustration. As the market matures, consumers will choose devices that can offer an integrated experience. To answer this demand, manufacturers will need to choose components, dev kits and SDKs that support voice service interoperability to allow customers to seamlessly talk to the service of their choice.
The alignment of market groups to a single standard, such as Matter, will facilitate the deployment of smart devices in the home. Standards give users the confidence that their chosen smart devices will reliably work together while taking the guesswork out of the purchasing process. Ultimately, any consumer will have the option of a connected home that is secure and seamless.
The future of voice control will bring the freedom to speak voice commands without needing a smart speaker nearby. With the right support, voice technology will easily become a primary method of communication.
Brian Crannell is Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Audio Solutions for Knowles Corporation.