January 28, 2021

13 Smart Home Tech Features To Anticipate In The Next Decade

Smart home tech has made life a lot easier for many homeowners. Voice assistants like Alexa are among the most popular and well-known of the bunch, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg as far as home tech is concerned.

Over the next 10 years, we're likely to see a revolution in how electronic devices interact with each other and impact our lives. New innovations like internet-of-things (IoT) devices that can transform regular homes into smart homes are already becoming more affordable. Below, 13 experts from Forbes Technology Council discuss some of the smart innovations and key features of home tech they expect to see become commonplace within the next decade.

1. Seamless Integrations

I expect to see seamless integrations in the next few years. We can already integrate home assistants with the rest of the home ecosystem — streaming services, HVAC, security, alarms, etc. But let’s get real — integration is often clunky, burdensome and it takes multiple hurdles to get it done. Imagine walking into your home and announcing to Alexa, "I have a new device. Connect it with…" - David Moise, Decide Consulting

2. Fully Integrated Security

Fully integrated security systems will become the norm over the next decade, combining physical security for the home and cybersecurity for digital devices. Today, cybersecurity for the home is actually pretty lax, especially in terms of Wi-Fi networks that are vulnerable to hacking. Expect smart home providers to add cybersecurity measures to their suite of services. - John Shin, RSI Security

3. More AI And ML Integration

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies will become more commonplace as integrations with smart devices. Think smart reordering of home supplies and consumables or monitoring of behaviors like electricity usage and home comfort systems to optimize cost and environmental experience. Currently we can tell devices like Alexa to do these things, but in the coming years, it will be done for us. - Mike Frey, Yellow Basket, LLC

4. Extended Role Of Voice Assistants

While voice assistants would be more advanced to be able to do more than schedule calendar appointments, they would extend to doing more such as turning on appliances, and actually be able to do other things such as park your car, answer the door and many more connectivity activities that technology would be able to support. - Lydia Miller, TATA consultancy Services

5. Voice Biometrics

Smart assistants will be reliable and with a fair degree of precision be able to tell who is issuing the commands, so that they can perform complex tasks — such as checking emails, making financial transactions, etc. Voice biometrics is already a thing but will mature over the next few years to become more prolific. - Suresh Sambandam, Kissflow

6. Interactive Robot Assistants

Devices like iRobot are pretty common today and robotics and AI technologies, fast evolving. In a few years, interactive robot assistants will become an integral part of our day-to-day life. They can help perform common household chores, manage connected devices, ensure home security and make our lives more efficient. Not to mention, for people with special needs they can play a much bigger role. - Meeta Dash, Verta.ai

7. Intelligent AI Operating System

While Alexa is the voice interface for the home, we need an intelligent AI operating system to handle "everything" at home (similar to "Her"). This OS would have basic technical features (work from home, energy, cleaning, safety, physical and cybersecurity, sanitation, AV, gaming, payments) at home, office and community levels, as well as ) integration with smart city (all government services), and personal function (social media, e-commerce). - Satyam Bheemarasetti, NeoSilica Technologies Private Limited

8. Virtual Interactive Displays

Voice assistants are nice but I'm looking forward to virtual and interactive displays in the home that complement the voice experience. Not a wearable, but ideally something that's projected. - Elias Guerra, Popwallet

9. House Health Monitoring

The hottest thing in the next five to 10 years will be an assistant robot that tells the vitals of your house as well as scope out oddities. This will be an evolution of the drone monitoring system. People will have home health dashboards that are especially synchronized with the health of their mortgage payments. - WaiJe Coler, InfoTracer

10. Smart Locks

Smart locks, for sure, will be an omnipresent feature. Current technology is quite clunky, and technology is coming up with new and more secure ways of adding greater security. - Irsa Faruqui, RetroCube - Software and Mobile Application Development Company

11. Smart Toilets

I predict that smart toilets will become a tech feature in homes over the next 5 to 10 years. COVID has proven that a smart toilet can help monitor for viruses, diseases and vitamin deficiencies. It will be an early indicator for many health issues. - Brian Keith, Microsoft

12. Smart Solar Panels

I expect to see smart solar panels mounted on roofs. This is in line with the urgency around climate action and sustainability. With this, every house could also resell power back to the electricity grid and contribute toward a circular economy. As smart solutions are all potential attack surfaces for cyber criminals, digital risk could increase in tandem, and we see cybersecurity also taking increased priority. - Kumar Ritesh, CYFIRMA

13. Always-On TV Screens

TVs will eventually be left on all the time and connected to the rest of your ecosystem so that they can show alerts or aid in tasks more easily. They'll passively show art or photos from friends and family, a constant news feed of your own social circle, and your voice will be the remote for most activities. - Luke Wallace, Bottle Rocket

This article was originally published on Forbes.com

March 21, 2018

Creating your Voice Assistant Strategy

This piece was originally published at Forbes.com.

Voice interactions with digital devices are not new. Dragon's Naturally Speaking has been around since the late 1990s, and speech-to-text in some capacity has been on almost every device available since then. What has changed are the integrations and capabilities and, of course, the accuracy. Alexa is now able to order almost anything from Amazon, Siri can send messages and set up reminders and Cortana opens desktop applications and sends emails. The Google Assistant, for which I develop apps at Bottle Rocket, aims to provide a lot of this same functionality, with a few enhancements along the way.

NOW IS THE TIME

The number of voice interactions is growing exponentially, and the opportunities for companies to get in front of users are following suit. As accuracy and capabilities grow, so does consumer demand across every platform. When people look at new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, they're expecting integration with Alexa or Google Home. It's becoming more common for family members to ask their favorite voice assistant to play the music they want, instead of loading up their music app and searching for it manually. Even children are learning that talking to the assistant can result in faster answers than a browser search, even if the results are the same. If you want to create a voice-based app for your company, now is the time to start working on it.

CHOOSE YOUR PATH

When people think about your company, what do they think about as the primary interaction? This is a good place to start when building a voice-based app. If you’re a national food chain that focuses on delivery, your voice app needs to let people order food. If you’re not sure what people might want, ask your support channels about the users they connect with. They will likely know the top three requests off the top of their head.

Besides responding to user requests, you can also use a voice app to educate customers about other products and services you have. Maybe you want people to think about larger catering orders for their office, not just family-size orders. You can mention that as one option in the conversation, much like you would present it as an option in a smartphone app.

You’ll want to meet user’s basic expectations about your brand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer new ideas that help guide users to new areas or experiences. Regardless of which way the user goes, you’ll need to help them finish the task at hand or offer a way out if they feel like they’ve gone too far. If they get stuck, you can provide options on how to answer the current question, but you also should let them exit a conversation or start over if they decide they really don’t want to do something.

HOW MACHINE LEARNING FITS IN

Google has doubled down on using machine learning in all their products, and their assistant backend, Dialog Flow, is no exception. The best example is the machine learning of triggering phrases that start various actions. Many examples are entered, such as “start an order,” “place an order” and “I want to order,” and then Dialog Flow creates models based on these entries to help find the ordering activity. Then, even when someone says “Make an order,” the model will determine that the user probably wants to start the ordering activity. This means that users don’t have to spend as much time learning how to use the app.

But what if the user says something that doesn’t match any specific action? Your app won’t know what to do. This happens all the time in normal conversation -- we’re just used to dealing with it, and voice apps have contingencies for this. The Google Assistant calls these “fallback” actions. Maybe your Assistant should say “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” It could also provide a list of valid options for the question it asked. For example, the list of toppings you allow that you were expecting the user to pick from. To make it more natural, you can vary these responses, so the user doesn't hear "I'm sorry, please repeat that" over and over.

Finally, all of the phrases people say to your app that aren’t understood are saved and sorted, so that later you can decide what to do with them. You can help train the AI model on new phrases you want to trigger existing actions, or you might create an action that helps explain to the user why it can’t do a common request that you’re seeing. Even more than that, you can see what people are requesting and use that to build your future roadmap.

A MORE PERSONAL INTERACTION

When it comes to voice interfaces, there is no wrong input, only unexpected input. People are going to say random things, and you have to be prepared for it. I’ve learned that the tools have gotten a lot better in the past year, and we’re seeing even more improvement on the horizon. Voice apps can help users accomplish the tasks they want quickly, but it can also be a tool to educate users on what’s possible.

People are looking for ways to have a more personal experience with technology, one that feels custom-tailored to their unique needs. Voice interactions can provide this if they really listen to the customer and take advantage of all the interactions you have across all your users. Your company or brand now has a very personal way to talk to your customers, so think about the personality you want to present and how you can help them, and you’re likely to end up as a trusted advisor.

June 13, 2017

Engineering Jedi: Why I Couldn’t Resist Echo Show

For those who have been living under a rock these past couple weeks, Amazon announced a new member to their successful family of voice assistants: the Echo Show. I already own an Echo Dot and Amazon Echo. And while technically interesting, I didn’t see a compelling use case for the Amazon Look, (I know I look fabulous in my Target T-Shirts—I don’t need Alexa to confirm).

So why then did I plunk down two hundred and change to pre-order the Echo Show? I can think of three things right off the bat.

One screen to rule them all

One of the things that surprised me when I first started using my Amazon Echo was how many “smart” devices I already had in my home. Thermostat. Television. Lights. I also discovered after just a couple of weeks devices that didn’t work in the Amazon Echo ecosystem felt clunky. While at first turning on the kitchen light via voice seemed a novelty, in short order I found myself wanting to control everything from that centralized interface.

The challenge has been some of the more complex devices, my ecobee thermostat for example, can be tricky to get just right without some visual indicators. It’s true there is a phone app, and it’s true I could just walk to each thermostat and use the controls on the device. But the idea of being able to go to one screen on my kitchen counter that is always on for everything has some appeal. Whether I’m looking to adjust temperature in a different area of the house, know when the sprinklers are next scheduled to come on, or see what zone of my security system the cat just tripped, I envision the Echo Show could be my one-stop-shop.

A personal coach

Current incarnations of Echo have been a welcome addition to my kitchen. There are lots of cooking skills available for Alexa, (which is awesome because I have none of my own). She’s great at reading me recipes. But there are times when I just need some visual guides. (Did she say cinnamon or cumin? #worstfrenchtoastever). Of course, you can always ask Alexa to repeat something, or, stop and wash off your hands and then double check on your smartphone. However, a plethora of voice controlled video tutorials sitting on the counter next to my toaster is not without merit.

No more arguments over song lyrics

I listen to lots of music on Echo. The speaker, (even on the Dot when you consider the price point), is noteworthy. Interrupting to ask what the current song being shuffled is, or who the artist is sometimes kills my jam. Also, it stops me from singing along, which is something I do frequently much to the dismay of my son who is home from college for the summer. On occasion, he has even suggested I might not have got the words just right. (Apparently, “saving his life from this warm sausage tea” may not be an actual lyric in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I’ll have to get back to you on that one.) My point is I think there is something pretty cool about always being able to glance over at the lyrics of whatever you’re listening to.

Of course, the Echo Show is not without its drawbacks. One of the things I most appreciate about my other Echo household members is that the interactions are omni-directional. Often I’m not even in the same room as one of my devices. I regularly shout from the top of my stairs (much to the bewilderment of my dog) asking Alexa for the temperature outside or what is on my calendar for the day. Requiring that I face the screen and knowing the limitations of my aging eyes to perform certain functions may take some getting used to.

Still, I’m betting Echo Show will prove as or more useful than her siblings. And if sales of previous Amazon Echo devices are any clue, I’m not alone. Working at a forward-thinking technology company like Bottle Rocket, we normally get access to developer kits and pre-release software. So, if you have an idea that seems particularly well-suited for the Echo Show you should reach out. One of our iOT strategists can help you hit the ground running.

May 8, 2017

Engineering Jedi: Alexa Lingo

It’s an exciting time for voice. Amazon’s Alexa has come into her own these last couple of years. Some analysts estimate as many as 8.2 million devices have been sold since late 2014. I personally find myself talking to Alexa multiple times a day, every day. It’s truly a remarkable feat of technology.

The engineer in me is fascinated by Alexa. And, being at Bottle Rocket where I work on the frontline of all things technology, I recently decided I wanted to write my own Alexa app, uhm I mean skill (which you’ll learn about later). Bottle Rocket promotes a learning culture, so I quickly tapped into other engineers and strategists here who were already tinkering (and in some cases, more than tinkering) with voice and lots of impressive things in the “personal digital assistant” space.

Much to my surprise, I found that even as a veteran engineer, I had some trouble following the conversation. While Alexa hasn’t even officially turned 3 yet, a whole vernacular has popped up around her that can be a little overwhelming.

So, before I rolled up my sleeves and started coding my first Alexa skill, I put together this handy little glossary of Alexa lingo.

Alexa Development Terminology

Wakeword

Except in the case of the Echo Tap, which has a physical button, Echo has multiple microphones that are always listening. Think of the device as being in standby mode. It is not fully activated and comprehending until you call out the wakeword. By default, this wakeword is “Alexa.” There are currently four other wakewords you can set on the device.

Skills

Skills are essentially apps for Alexa. The list of available skills for Alexa is growing every day. If you haven’t done so before, spend a few minutes browsing some of the most popular.

Invocation

The invocation is the word or words used to identify a particular skill. I’ve heard it described as synonymous to an app name, but I think a better analogy is the app icon since you may choose to call your skill “Greatest Alexa Skill” but might settle on an invocation word that’s less of a mouthful, like “G.A.S.”

Intent

This one doesn’t directly relate to the spoken script with Alexa, but rather intent is the “what” in what are you trying to accomplish by speaking to Alexa in the first place.

Utterance

Utterances represent the variances of spoken language and all the nuance that implies. Think of all the different ways someone might ask about the weather. What’s the weather? What’s my weather? What is my weather? What is the weather like? That list can get very long very quickly. Getting utterances right can be tough, but Amazon’s guidelines are helpful.

Slot

Slot is another word for what programmers and mathematicians call variables. If you think back to algebra, x in the equation 50+x=75 would be the variable. In Alexa’s vernacular x is the slot.

Developing for Alexa

Now that you know the terms in play, you can begin to see how they fit together.

Wakeword
Invocation
Utterance
Slot
Intent

Alexa, ask Southwest about my flight info.
<Respond with information about an upcoming flight>

Alexa, ask Coke Freestyle for today’s top mix.
<Respond with information about the most popular Freestyle mix for today’s date>

Alexa, tell NPR to remind me when Way With Words starts.
<Set a reminder for when the program “Way With Words” is scheduled to next air>

Eureka! Now you’re speaking Alexa!

Of course, a lot more goes into building a great voice experience than just understanding the terminology. Publishing an Alexa skill is a blending of engineering, strategy, and quality assurance. Amazon’s submission process requires knowledge of policy guidelines, cloud-based security, and a combination of functional and experiential testing. Lucky for you (and me), my colleagues here at Bottle Rocket have a head start.

I encourage you to schedule a demonstration of Bottle Rocket’s voice expertise. Even if you aren’t quite sure how an Alexa skill fits into your overall digital strategy, seeing some of the exciting work going on here will get the wheels turning

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