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Advanced Edge Connectivity Will Fuel Private, Intuitive Voice Interactions with Devices

The world of smart devices and IoT was among the first to fully embrace voice technology. Now voice assistants are well-established in that industry, with devices from major brands integrating with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.

Yet, while these devices have enjoyed tremendous early success, they also have limitations that have caused many consumers to hit the pause button. Some reports have found that users are growing disillusioned with devices like Amazon’s Echo smart speaker. Typically they find themselves struggling with its conversational limits, but Big Tech “cloud only” offerings have also floundered due to their slow response times – and that’s because processing takes a lot longer when it must involve the cloud.

The continued expansion of these large incumbents and their aggressive collection of consumer data has raised additional concerns about surveillance and user privacy. Indeed, studies have shown that well over half of people who use voice commands believe privacy concerns are of paramount importance.

Predictions Series 2022: Redefining AI in a Human Context

Next generation of edge connectivity

Though there are already more private, embedded – or “edge” – voice tech solutions on the market (i.e. that don’t involve all information going to the Cloud), they tend to be narrow in their functionality and provide an unsatisfying voice experience.

The as-yet untapped opportunity is on-device voice technology that comes equipped with sophisticated automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU). The next growth spurt for voice assistants will undoubtedly be on the edge – and in some cases a combination of edge and cloud connectivity – and this AI-fueled evolution is likely to be the catalyst.

For manufacturers, edge solves many problems. The processing and storing of data happens locally, giving users maximum privacy and control over their data. And, because the data never travels to the cloud the result is faster responses.

For businesses looking to include an on-device voice assistant, newer edge offerings can also have lower CPU requirements, which lowers manufacturing costs.

In truth, manufacturers just need more and better options to help them understand what’s right for their customers and products when it comes to edge vs. cloud connectivity.

The ideal solution might be one that offers edge processing power with and without access to the cloud. With a range of solutions (as opposed to a binary choice) smart device and IoT companies can select different capabilities to meet different needs, both in terms of their products and the desires of their customers.

Edge as an advantage 

It helps to remember that embedded intelligence has come on leaps and bounds. Here are just four key advantages of voice technology powered by next generation edge technology:

Speed and accuracy with voice assistants on the edge

Speed and accuracy are essential for all voice assistants, regardless of connectivity. In the past, embedded voice assistants were limited to simple command and control functions. If the user did not utter the right phrase, the voice interface simply didn’t work, or worse, proceeded to begin an operation not intended by the user. Limited capabilities and robotic sounding responses were key reasons manufacturers resisted adopting voice interfaces.

Today, advances in voice AI and chip technology have solved the challenges of legacy embedded voice AI by putting more NLU directly onto the device.

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Now, embedded voice AI solutions with NLU technology on-device can accept queries using a range of phrases and respond naturally.

Edge technology is faster because processing is done right on the device, rather than having to wait while information travels large distances to the cloud. This also improves network bandwidth.

Lower manufacturing costs

Voice assistants can require a sizable investment in both time and money. While the end result, ROI, and customer satisfaction are well worth the investment, some embedded solutions have a large footprint that can take additional space in the device and increase the manufacturing costs of the device.

Luckily there are now nimble edge solutions available that have a small CPU footprint and allow for smooth functionality while taking less space and therefore reducing manufacturing costs.

Simpler, more enjoyable interactions with everyday product

Edge only voice assistants are bringing products to life with improved functionality that is revolutionizing the way users interact with technology. Instead of touching everything, pushing buttons, and endlessly scrolling through menus, consumers can control the world of devices around them with their voices – whether they are operating an elevator, wearing a hearable, turning on the coffee maker at home, or ordering at a drive-thru.

For example, in the home, edge voice assistants can respond to queries like:
  • “Turn on the sprinklers in the backyard at 9 am.”
  • “Preheat the upper oven to 350℉, turn off the lower oven, and set a timer for 20 minutes.”
  • “Wash this load with fabric softener, in cold water, on delicate, and add an extra rinse.”

Privacy

When a manufacturer deploys edge-enabled technology, they also help protect user privacy. That’s because the data collected from voice interactions is processed and stored locally on the device, never reaching the cloud. As with the above examples where voice acts as an interface for home appliances, in some circumstances cloud connectivity can even be inappropriate and slow.

Edge connectivity allows users and consumers to enjoy great functionality without having to become concerned about unnecessary surveillance or intrusion.

Better, more advanced edge for voice AI will ultimately open this technology up to a whole new range of businesses and products due to its accessibility and affordability. New options should also allow manufacturers to store and protect sensitive data locally – which could help brands build customer trust.

Importantly, businesses now have a range of options to choose from when it comes to edge and cloud connectivity – with many opting for a hybrid solution that includes both.

When combined with voice technology’s incredible ability to unshackle us from our buttons, key pads, and screens, this next evolution can only be a positive one for manufacturers

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]and users alike.

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