Daily Management Review

Talk To Appliances, Or Text Them? Smart Condo Conundrum


Talk To Appliances, Or Text Them? Smart Condo Conundrum
In today's so-called smart home, simply by talking to a small Wifi-connected speaker, such as Amazon's Echo or Google's Home, you can dim the lights, order more toothpaste or tell the kids to go to bed.
Barely in existence in 2014 was the voice-first market - combining voice with artificial intelligence (AI). 24.5 million appliances are expected to be shipped this year, believes Voice Labs, a consultancy.
Samsung Electronics plans to incorporate Viv, its newly acquired virtual assistant, into its phones and home appliances; Baidu last month bought Raven, billed as China's answer to Amazon's Alexa intelligent personal assistant; and Apple is taking its Siri voice assistant beyond its mobile devices to PCs, cars, and the home. These are among the other big tech firms that have their own plans.
But the future of communicating with the Internet of Things need not be vocal, think soem experts.
For example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg found he preferred communicating by text because, he wrote, "mostly it feels less disturbing to people around me” and was working on Jarvis, his own voice-powered AI home automation.
And a small Singapore firm, Unified Inbox, which offers a service that can handle ordinary text messages and pass them on to appliances, and several major appliance makers have turned to it.
A quick text message can "preheat the oven to 200 degrees at 6.30 p.m."; can "start the coffee machine" or "turn on the vacuum cleaner at 5 p.m." with your home added to the contacts list on, say, WhatsApp.
"Think of it as a universal translator between the languages that machines speak ... and us humans," said Toby Ruckert, a German former concert pianist and now Unified Inbox's CEO.
The company has customers that include half of the world's smart appliance makers, such as Bosch and Ruckert says its technology is patent-backed, has been several years in the making, even though the company is just a small player, funded by private investors.
While the consumer can add their appliance by messaging its serial number to a special user account or phone number Unified Inbox connects the devices on behalf of the manufacturer. In addition to SMS and Twitter, and controls appliances from ovens to kettles, it so far supports more than 20 of the most popular messaging apps. Ruckert says that locks, garage openers, window blinds, toasters and garden sprinklers, are among the other home appliances being tested.
"People aren't going to want a different interface for all the different appliances in their home," says Jason Jameson, of IBM. To better understand user messages, the company is pairing its Watson AI supercomputer with Unified Inbox. Working with a Samsung Robot Cleaner, they will this week demonstrate the service.
"The common denominator is the smartphone, and even more common is the messaging app," Jameson notes.
Why more than half of the world's smart appliance manufacturers have signed up, has another reason Ruckert says.
Connecting to Alexa or another dominant platform, or being cast aside if Amazon moves into making its own household appliances, they're worried the big tech companies' one-appliance-controls-all approach will relegate them to commodity players.
"Our customers are quite afraid of the likes of Amazon," Ruckert said. "Having a Trojan horse in a customer's home, like Echo, that they must integrate with to stay competitive is a nightmare for them."
An Amazon spokesperson said the company was "excited by the early response by smart home device manufacturers and even more excited by the customer response," but declined to speculate about future plans.
(Source:www.reuters.com ) 

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