How the voice assistants condemned the remote


If there is a common theme at this year's CES 2019 – the Las Vegas Technology Show we cover all week – that's the talk.

Not just chatting on the show (although there were many too). By talking, we mean the avalanche of devices arriving with support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and so many other competing voice assistants.

In fact, everything from motorcycle helmets, water bottles and phone chargers to bells, pianos and toilets, at least now has the ability to be controlled by voice.

So, is the remote control eliminated?

In the long run, absolutely. It's gone.

"The removal of the remote is one of the most compelling cases of using voice technologies," says Mark Lippett, CEO of XMOS, whose farfield voice technology is used in sound bars, Freebox and Skyworth TVs to allow them to connect to Alexa. "Some companies are turning directly to far-field voice technology, while others are using near-field push to talk," he adds.

Ah yes, push to speak – AKA "the remote that refuses to die". "Push-to-talk" means a remote control in the hand, hold it against the mouth and speak at the touch of a button.

On Samsung QLED TVs for 2019, access to Bixby via a push-to-talk nunchuk-style remote control, while Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant only works when it is used via a device Amazon Echo or Google Home. It's a similar story for LG's OLED TVs. He already feels quaint and slightly confusing to use.

"Push-to-talk shares much of the user experience and it's an interesting intermediate step, but it misses the question," Lippet said. "The game here is obviously to get rid of the remote control completely."

LG offers Google Assistant for TVs, but Alexa for home appliances.

LG offers Google Assistant for TVs, but Alexa for home appliances. Credit: Jamie Carter

Are there too many voice assistants?

If we accept that voice assistants are the future, we are still in a situation where, in the same room, you may be using Alexa on an echo to play hands-free music, using Google Assistant, Alexa or Bixby to communicate with a computer. Television, Cortana on an Xbox … and with more and more artificial intelligence, the list is now infinite. Should the technology industry unite around a voice platform?

"There are doubts about the ability of this type of situation to offer a very good user experience," says Lippet. "Two artificial assistants in a box are just a stepping stone to three, four, and eight o'clock, so it's a very confusing user experience to talk to something that has so many personalities."

One voice to govern them all

There is no way for the technology sector to continue indefinitely with multiple voice assistants. "We think it will be a broker, what you might consider a kind of" digital twin "," digital demon "or Avatar, which will provide your point from entry to tens of thousands of AI offering different services, "says Lippet, pointing out that the broker would also protect the privacy of the user.

"In the end, this broker will be a lot more personal to you rather than belonging to a brand. There will be something on the periphery of the network that trusts you, similar to the relationship you might have with your mobile phone. "

However, the technology announced at CES 2019 promises to make voice control – and many other types of control – much simpler.

XMOS and Holosonics unveiled at CES tech to make voice control truly personal.

XMOS and Holosonics unveiled at CES tech to make voice control truly personal. Credit: Jamie Carter

The first truly personal voice assistant

Some TVs and other devices may now have remote microphones capable of detecting a voice in a large room, but in a world of multiple voice-controlled devices, how can you talk to one or none of them? them?

Cue a radical new technology unveiled by XMOS and Holosonics At CES, you can determine the exact direction of an audio response, then apply a narrow sound beam that looks like a laser. The world's first voice-activated personal assistant technology that creates sound with the same precision as light.

Also expect the devices to use "multimodal detection". "A smarter device could tell you that you were on the phone and wanted to engage in a conversation with a device using information such as: whether you're watching it or not – things that humans use conversation, but these devices do not can not, "says Lippet.

Being able to separate the voices of different people will also become an important capability of future devices.

Proximity sensors, haptic feedback and gestural control

In a Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino suite, a totally different hands-free technology is presented by the Norwegian company Elliptical Laboratoriesand seems ready to completely erase the remote control, using proximity sensors.

The theory is that instead of pressing buttons or telling the TV what to do, you need actions based on your movements. For example, suspend a movie; In the Elliptic Labs demo, Netflix video streaming stops when proximity sensors detect you leaving the room for another beer and resumes when you return to the room. In another demo, you double-click in the air to control the volume coming from a smart speaker.

Elliptic Labs technicians pause Netflix when you leave the room.

Elliptic Labs technicians pause Netflix when you leave the room. Credit: Netflix

How ultrasound could replace the remote control

The technology is called 'Inner Reflection & # 39; and combines gesture recognition and ultrasound presence detection. Used in a TV, it emits ultrasonic waves, which radiate from the back of the screen to resonate the user's body, thus creating a 180-degree interaction space. Since it uses sound, and not the typical optical infrared beam of television remote controls, the signal is less likely to be blocked.

"If you listen to a program and leave the room, you can increase the volume automatically so you can continue to watch the show while taking something from another room," says Guenael Strutt, vice president of development. of product. at Elliptic Labs. "Then, as you get closer to the TV, you can adjust the volume again." The same technology can also be used to turn off the TV and the lights if no one stays in the room for a while. and even detect if someone's a grave.

A similar version of the technology is already being used on the Xiaomi Mi MIX it is simply a software update for any device with a speaker and a microphone. "I can not imagine that it will completely replace the remotes, but it certainly offers the ability to control the use, volume, etc., actions that today are associated with remotes," says Strutt.

Elliptic Labs' Inner Reflection technology uses proximity sensors to detect the viewer's position.

Elliptic Labs' Inner Reflection technology uses proximity sensors to detect the viewer's position. Credit: Elliptic Labs

The conversation continues …

For the moment, it's all about voice. "Voice interfaces will find their way into anything that requires human interaction from time to time – and that's the majority of categories," says Lippet.

XMOS / Holosonics technology promises to make Alexa more personal and focused, with incoming artificial intelligence configured to make smart devices more context aware. Then come the gestures and haptic feedback, but it remains to be seen if the remote will disappear actively.

"We expect our devices to behave differently. We want them to know where we are and whether we want to interact with them or not, "says Strutt. "Our devices will be aware of our presence. They will answer. "

So, instead of looking around you in the room looking for the remote control, your TV will look for you in the future.

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