Forget a smartphone: Your voice is the key to the Internet of Things

Last year we saw everything from connected cameras and thermostats to smart fridges and washing machines. However, to make futuristic, fully connected homes a reality, we’ll need a simple, effortless way to control our tech – and that’s not a smartphone, it’s voice.

Forget a smartphone: Your voice is the key to the Internet of Things

By far the most intuitive way to control devices, voice control is already used in everything from cars to smartphones and even game consoles. Simply put, it’s the ultimate way to control our devices. So how do we introduce voice, and turn the Internet of Things from novelty to home of the future? At CES, Alphr spoke to Kenn Harper, vice president of devices and ecosystem at voice-recognition firm Nuance, to find out.

The problem with the IoT

As it stands, the Internet of Things feels like an orchestra without a conductor. While we can control many devices on their own, we can’t get them to work in unison. “There needs to be an interface that makes it really simple for a user to tap into [the] sophistication of what that device can do now that it’s connected,” said Harper.

As it stands, the Internet of Things feels like an orchestra without a conductor

But that interface isn’t a smartphone. Although phones can be useful for controlling utilities when you’re out, inside the house, they’re an inelegant solution that clutters the user experience. A phone is an additional layer of complication –  and when you throw in the need to use specific apps with specific devices, it gets worse.siri_voice_activiation_

We think that voice is that perfect interface

Instead, the interface the connected home needs is voice. “We think that voice is that perfect interface,” said Harper. “Not only because it’s natural, but also because a lot of these new IoT form factors don’t necessarily have a screen to interact with.”

That’s the other problem voice solves. The Internet of Things isn’t made up of just microwaves, fridges and washing machines with huge touchscreens – it also extends to things as simple as curtain rails and doorbells. And voice will allow us to treat those with exactly the same commands.

How to bring voice into the connected home

So how we do bring voice control into the home?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. By its very nature, the Internet of Things is made up of countless devices with different needs, different operations and different uses. “Each of these devices is unique, so what someone might be doing for a smart refrigerator is very different to what someone is doing on a thermostat,” explained Harper.

Nuance Mix is designed to be a platform for developers to create natural-language interfaces in their own applications. It’s capable of understanding up to 40 languages, and it has 80 distinctive voices, so developers can pick the speech they feel suits their product best. As Harper says, “every IoT [device] is going to use a unique voice interface that’s been tailored and tuned and optimised to support a set of tasks that the developer cares about”.

How far away are we from it happening?

In many ways, voice control is already here. Most smartphones and tablets have Google Now, Siri or Cortana prebaked into their OS, while CarPlay and Android Auto are helping to make voice control more popular in cars. Even more exciting is the possibility of using products such as like Apple TV’s Siri as a hub to control your home.

It will be a while before we see Nuance’s version of voice control in every connected device we own, but with 30,000 developers already signed up to the Nuance’s developer programme, it’s only a matter of time. Until then, we’re stuck with our smartphones.

Read next: Can you really 3D-print your dream home?

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