Voice Assistants Are Taking Over Consumer IoT

The year: 2019. The opponents: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The stage: CES.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

The battleground of the virtual assistants took center stage at CES 2019. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant geared up for battle. Google armored up with Google Assistant ski suits. It’s no surprise the competition was heated: The voice assistant market is projected to be worth $7.8 billion by 2023. Voice shopping on Alexa alone could generate $5 billion per year in revenue by 2020 with global ad spending on voice assistants—currently nonexistent—projected to reach $19 billion by 2022.  

Google played for keeps at CES. They erected a carnival ride in their outdoor booth and sent a live personal Google Assistant (ski suit clad Googlers) to every CES booth with a GA integration. Amazon had a much more subdued presence; their campaign, Alexa Everywhere, fell a bit short when compared to Google’s “it’s a smart world after all” amusement park. It’s only fitting though, as Google has been in Amazon’s Alexa-sized shadow for the past 4 years.

No industry felt the heat of the voice assistant battle more than Consumer IoT (CIoT), in which voice assistant integrations became the primary focus for any CIoT product-centric company. Imagine a future in which every command is at the tip of your tongue. When you wake up. your bathroom mirror can report your schedule for the day. During breakfast, you can ask the coffee machine for a latte, extra foam. On the train, your watch will tell you just how late you’ll be to work. In the office, your printer will pipe up, asking for more ink, please.

For many Americans, the entry point into the Internet of Things has been Amazon and Google’s smart speakers. Voice control is one of the primary drivers of smart home market growth with the number of home voice devices projected to reach 275 million by 2023. On the product side, the smart home market is still up for grabs. This year, most major tech companies at CES had some type of connected product for the home. Highlights include LG’s Homebrew countertop beerbot, Simplehuman’s smart trashcan, and Kohler’s $7,000 award-winning connected toilet.

The IoT For All team caught up with two smart home companies, Bosch and Nortek Security & Controls, to discuss their upcoming products.

Bosch: A New Spin on Augmented Reality

Amazon saw early success in the market, integrating with many products before Google Assistant rolled out their partner program. Bosch, which launched its smart home subsidiary in 2016, has an Alexa integration for their suite of connected home products. With connected Bosch products, Alexa can do everything from heating your oven to launching a custom room setting, e.g. Night Mode,  from Bosch’s Scenario Manager.

Cara Acker, Senior Brand Marketing Manager at BSH, sat down with IoT For All to discuss one of their newest innovations: PAI, a projector that can be controlled through touch gestures. Using an integrated 3D sensor to record the user’s hand movements, PAI can turn any flat surface—from cutting boards to kitchen tiles—into a touch screen. Users can video chat, surf the web, watch Youtube, or even follow along with a recipe, using the PAI interface.

Limiting PAI to the kitchen is short-sighted; the technology is one of the first augmented reality (AR) experiences we’ve seen that has the power to go mainstream. PAI could be impactful in a variety of industries. When combined with voice control, this technology could revolutionize more than just your kitchen.  It nullifies device ownership, making it a plausible solution for educational or enterprise settings. The projector technology could be more durable than touch devices, proving advantageous in factory environments. We wouldn’t be surprised if similar projector AR technology becomes mainstream over the next 5 years.

Nortek: Taking Facial Recognition Beyond Security

Many smart home companies think the best choice is simply not to choose, integrating with both Alexa and Google Assistant. Nortek Security & Control’s new ELAN Intelligent Touch Panel, for example, is compatible with both assistants. It’s worth mentioning that Nortek doesn’t solely rely on voice control to create a hands-free product. Their latest technology uses facial recognition to provide a connected and personalized experience to the homeowner, says Bill Hensley, Senior Director of Marketing at Nortek Security & Control.

Upon arriving home, a user initiates a facial scan to disarm their security system. The scan pulls up their profile, which includes their preferred home settings. If Rolf favors smooth jazz and consistently sets his thermostat to 68 degrees, the ELAN system will automatically adjust the temperature setting and begin playing Fazer upon his arrival. From there, Rolf can interact with the system via voice commands or Bosch’s phone app from anywhere in his home.

Most consumers are familiar with facial recognition for security purposes (think iPhone X), but few companies have utilized the technology to track user preferences in order better to serve that specific customer. Facebook uses facial recognition to serve you ads and the Chinese government uses it as a mechanism of social policing.  But really enhancing the customer’s comfort through facial recognition is fairly cutting edge.

Nonetheless, industries are planning on incorporating facial recognition technology into their future products and services. According to Oracle’s Hotel 2025 report, 72 percent of hotel operators expect to deploy facial recognition technology to identify and interact with guests over the next four years. It’s easy to see the benefits of combining voice assistant and facial recognition technologies for businesses in an era in which experiences are a commodity of the highest value.

Hey Google, Where Do Voice Assistants Go from Here?

As voice assistants continue to be refined through new ML techniques, and within the wider context of the proliferation of smarter smart home products, the competition for market dominance will continue to increase.

For Amazon and Google, that means many more years of integrating with every connected product on the market and not just smart home technology. Amazon’s challenge is maintaining their market lead and improving their technology; Google will need to focus more on gaining more integration partners and taking market share from Amazon and new startups (perhaps via acquisition).

Once voice-enabled smart home technology is considered not a luxury but truly ubiquitous across income segments, we’ll see the fight morph into other verticals. For now, however, we should expect to see smart home companies focusing on utilizing voice assistants in groundbreaking ways.  At the very least, we know we’ll be entertained at the many CES’s to come. Who doesn’t want Alexa in their toilet?