🚘How The Bot Studio Created a Cross Device Voice Application with Smartly AI

Developed by The Bot Studio, Talk To My Car is the first virtual assistant for connected drivers, which aims to make motorists’ lives easier. The company developed a voice application to be deployed on both Google Home and Amazon Alexa using Smartly AI’s voice application creation platform.

Laurent Dunys, the company’s CEO and founder, explains to us his motivations for creating a voice app, and why he did it with Smartly AI.

How The Bot Studio Created a Cross Device Voice Application with Smartly AI

Laurent Dunys presenting Talk to My Car at Smartly AI’s new platform launch night

Why did you create a voice application?

In the early 2017, we released Talk To My Car, the first Chatbot on FB Messenger that enables drivers to chat with their connected cars, for example, to enquire about the fuel level, battery, if they locked the doors or even the location of the parked car. We observed that users liked to use the app at home in the morning, we therefore decided that a 100% voice version of the app, deployed on Alexa and Google Assistant, could be practical for users, as it would enable them to get ready for the day and prepare their car journey simultaneously, using only their voice!

Why did you choose Smartly AI?

With the arrival of Google Home in France this summer and the success of Amazon Echo and the USA and Europe, we wanted to make sure that our app was available on both devices. After making some research, we found out that the Smartly.ai’s team was a well established expert in the voice assistance technology, and that their platform enabled us to develop our app once and deploy it on any device, saving us precious development time and enabling us to offer exactly the same voice experience on both devices! We also believe it will save us considerable time and efficiency during maintenance and for all future product evolutions.

What do you think of the solution?

Very intuitive and simple to use, we quickly mastered the platform, and it was a great collaborative tool. Our project manager created the intents and entities of the app, as well as the conversation tree, and our developer integrated the code accordingly.  In total, it took us 6 days to develop the 100% voice version of Talk To My Car on both Alexa and Google Home. (user authentication included).

Demo of Talk to my Car on Alexa

What are the results of the app so far?

Today, our voice app is in testing phase, but it works perfectly on both devices. We are currently reviewing the Amazon and Google’s certification checklists and then we will release our 100% voice version of Talk To My Car to the world, watch this space!

Want to create a voice app too? Get in touch for a demo!

🚀Introducing our new Platform for Google Home & Amazon Alexa Voice Applications

We are delighted to announce that our new platform is live!!! Head over to our website to request an access and start creating beautiful voice applications for Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Our launch coincides with the release of Google’s smart speaker, Google Home, in France.

The smart speaker market, originally pioneered by Amazon, is expected to hit USD 13 billion by 2024. With several technology giants announcing their plans to take on Amazon and Google in the smart speaker market, it is clear that voice represents the next major interface for communication between humans and machines, and a major new client touchpoint for companies.

Designing a voice application can be complicated. Our platform was created in order to accompany businesses in this voice revolution through radically simplifying the process of building, testing and monitoring voice applications for smart speakers.

Smartly AI's plaform makes voice applications easy

“As advocates of voice since 2012, we are delighted to witness the mainstream adoption of this technology and to be a key player in this booming industry. Smartly AI Voice Platform was built with the ambition of widening the access to voice interfaces and introducing conversational intelligence into daily lives of everyone”, Hicham Tahiri, CEO at Smartly AI.

Most voice application platforms today are created for developers. Smartly AI has been designed to enable all the profiles in a project team to effectively work together to create a voice application. This has been made possible by abstracting all the complexity of the conversational AI via a simple and universally understable dialog flow, making conversational AI accessible to all the stakeholders of the voice project: developers, voice user interface designers, marketers, project managers and beta testers.

Our unique framework means that a user has to only create a voice application once on the platform, then can deploy it on whichever voice platforms they want. This saves users a significant amount of time in voice application creation and ensures that the same user experience is replicated across all devices.

Smartly AI’s in house natural language understanding recognizes and classifies requests, and extracts entities (the parts of the speech that give it context, such as times, dates and locations), meaning companies do not need an expert in machine learning to create a voice application. This also means that the platform is completely independant from GAFA and other third parties.

It took us some time, but we are delighted with the result and hope you will be too! Head over to our brand new website and request an access now, all feedback welcome!

🛫The Smart Speaker Market is About to get Noisy

China’s Alibaba, Samsung and Facebook are reportedly the latest tech giants to announce their intentions of joining the smart speaker market. The market, originally pioneered by Amazon, is expected to hit 13bn by 2024.

The smart speaker timeline

Let’s take a closer look at some of the major players in the smart speaker market.

 

Smartspeaker timeline

Amazon was the first player on the market, introducing Alexa and the Amazon Echo back in November 2014. The company enjoyed a monopoly of the market for quite some time and unveiled the Echo Dot in March 2016. Then, in November 2016, Google unveiled Google Home, its smart speaker to rival Amazon’s. Chinese company LingLong also launched its smart speaker DingDong in November. 2017 saw Amazon reveal the Echo Look in April and more recently the Echo Show in June. Apple announced that its smart speaker, HomePod, would be available at the end of the year and Orange has teamed up with Deutsche Telecom to create Djingo, the first French smart speaker, due for release in 2018! Reports revealed that Samsung was working on a Bixby powered smart speaker, and Facebook and Alibaba are also reportedly planning to join the market.

Amazon vs Google

To seduce the developers, the giants of the Internet are waging a war without mercy. Despite the headstart, Alexa is being caught up by Assistant, which is pretty much iso functional today.

Comparing Google Assistant and Alexa

In terms of geographical coverage, we can see in the map below that Assistant is already in front.

Geographical coverage - google home and amazon

Geographical coverage –  Assistant vs Alexa

However, Amazon remains far ahead in terms of the number of voice applications available on the store: +15000 vs 378.

Voice application skills - google home amazon alexa

Finally in terms of product range, Amazon is in front with a solid base of innovative products like the Echo Show and Echo Look. Interstingly those last two devices are more Voice-First than Voice-Only devices opening new UX opportunities.

Accelerators and brakes

The rise in smart homes, in addition to companies wanting to increase consumer experience and convenience, are among the major factors driving the rise of smart speakers. Indeed, today smart speakers are a lot more that a gadget for amusement and they can do a lot more than order a hawaiian pizza! Amazon Alexa, for example, has official skills from the banking, tourism and connected home sector. Privacy concerns owing to the fact that the devices are connected to the internet and can store voice data, as well as connectivity range and compatibility are all potential brakes to this otherwise fast growing market.

This is just the beginning

Voice is one of our primary and most natural methods of communication. Now, thanks to technological advancements it has become a major interface, transforming how we interact with technology. Touchscreens represented the last major shift in the way humans interact with machines, however, the leap to vocal interactions with machines is far more significant, particularly thanks to all the possibilities with third party applications. With an increasing number of players announcing their intentions of joining the smart speaker race, it is clear that this market isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, and it will indeed be fascinating to watch everything unfold. Smartly AI has been an advocate of vocal technology since 2012, and we are delighted to see its mainstream adoption, which encourages us to work even harder to accompany companies in this voice first revolution.

👀 Are smart speakers putting your privacy at risk?

Voice is becoming a primary interface. In our home appliances, cars, mobile apps… voice is everywhere. We can turn off the lights, order takeout, buy our weekly groceries or listen to our favorite album, all by using one of the most natural interfaces of all: our voice! This is made possible thanks to smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home! The convenience and fun these devices can bring is boundless, however, just how safe is it to sit these unassuming devices on our bedside table or in our living room, listening to our every word?

Smart speakers and privacy

What are smart speakers?

Voice recognition technology, like Apple’s Siri, has been around for a while. However, smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Google Home are game changers. These speakers want to be your virtual assistant and transform the way you interact with your home, other devices, even your favorite brands. Based on voice activated artificial intelligence, smart speakers can be connected to third party Internet of things devices, such as your thermostat or car doors, enabling you to order and control things using your voice! Smart speakers are equipped with a web connected microphone, that is constantly listening for their trigger word. When a user activates a smart speaker to make a request, the device sends a record or stream audio clip of the command to a server where the request is processed a response is formulated. The audio clips are stored remotely and with both Amazon and Google’s devices you can review and delete them online. However, it is not clear whether the data stays on servers after being deleted from the account. Furthermore, at the moment devices only record requests, however, as they advance and are we are able to do more with them, such as dictate emails to be sent, where will this data be stored ?

 

privacy
Your voice is only cloud processed if you say a specific trigger word


As smart speakers are designed to wake up and record as soon as they hear one of their activation words, there could be instances where conversations get stored
without you even knowing! One prosecutor even issued a search warrant to see if a suspect’s Echo contains evidence in a murder case. As smart speakers cannot yet differentiate between voices, anyone can activate them. This was something that Burger King took advantage of in its recent TV ad, which has just won prestigious Cannes Lions’ Grand Prix award. At the end of the ad, the actor triggers Google Home to wake up and cite the Whopper Burger’s wikipedia description, by saying “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger!”. All this leads us to ask, just how private can a home with voice activated microphones really be?

Your privacy at risk?

So, can hackers exploit the backdoor coding of these devices and listen to what you’re saying? Well, nothing is impossible, but both Google and Amazon have taken the necessary precautions to stop wiretapping. Furthermore, the audio file that is sent to their data centers is encrypted, meaning that even your network was compromised, it is unlikely that smart speakers can be used as listening devices. Someone getting hold of you Amazon or Google password and seeing your interactions is the biggest risk, so make sure you use a strong password, you could even consider 2 factor security!

What can you do?

If the thought of the smart speaker being about to listen in at any moment makes you uneasy, you can put it on mute manually or change your account settings to make your device even more secure, such as password protecting purchase options available with the speaker or making the device play an audible tone when it is active and recording. You can also log onto your Amazon or Google account and delete your voice history (either individually or in bulk. To do this for your Google device, head over to myactivity.google.com, click the three vertical dots in the “My Activity” bar, and hit “Delete activity by” in the drop-down menu. Click the “All Products” drop-down menu, choose “Voice & Audio,” and click delete. For Amazon’s speaker, go to  amazon.com/myx, click the “Your Devices” tab, select your Alexa device, and click “Manage voice recordings.” A pop-up message will appear, and all you need to do it click “Delete”. However, please note that deleting your history on your smart speaker may affect the personalisation of your experience. Check out this handy screen cast for further instructions on deleting your Amazon Alexa account history.

Developers could also use privacy by design assistants, such as Snips. However, use may be limited due to these kinds of assistants having no internet connection.

The privacy / convenience tradeoff

At the rate the smart speaker and IoT industries are evolving it looks like they are going to become more and more present in our daily lives, therefore, it is essential to understand how they work and and what you can do to prevent them from breaching your privacy. In conclusion, yes, theoretically smart speakers could pose a threat to privacy. However, they are not terribly intrusive, as they are only recording when awoken by a trigger word, and the likelihood of them picking up on a conversation they aren’t supposed to, and then someone intercepting it is very slight. Google, Amazon and other sites have been logging our web activity for years, now it is starting to happen with voice snippets. In the pursuit of convenience privacy is sometimes sacrificed, and in this particular trade off, convenience comes out on top for us!

🗣Digital assistants: What’s the big deal?

By 2021 digital assistants are expected to outnumber people.  In America a massive 35.6 million Americans are expected to use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month. This represents an increase of 129% over last year. According to a study by Grand View Research the intelligent virtual assistant market worth $3.07Bn by 2020. Voice has become a trend too big to ignore, especially when it comes to digital assistants, but what’s deal?

voice devices

A frictionless and natural medium

We are living in an increasingly digital and connected world, which has had consequences on our expectations and exchanges. Today we live in the moment, place great importance on experience and expect instant gratification. Voice reduces friction on any transaction or goal we want users to hit: no time lost typing out a long question or researching, voice is quick and easy and digital assistants give instant results.

Furthermore, voice is one of our primary and most natural methods of communication, making voice a natural interface for humans. Speaking does not normally require a lot of cognitive or mechanical exertion, neither does listening to the response. In fact, a recent study found that 50% less brain activity occurs when processing an answer delivered by voice, meaning people find it much easier to use. Got a question about your agenda, fancy ordering a takeaway or want to know what the traffic is like, you just need to ask! Digital assistants are transforming how we search for information, they even have the potential to disrupt web browsers, this perhaps explains why Google is investing so much in Google Home!

Endless opportunities for third party developers

By working with third party developers, digital assistants are able to even further extend their scope. Both Amazon and Google recently announced financial incentives to encourage developers to build apps for their respective assistants, meaning the possibilities of what can be done with a digital assistant is expanding constantly. For example, connected vacuums from Neato allow you to start or pause their autonomous vacuums using the Amazon Echo.  The fact that digital assistants can be integrated with a smart home takes their practicalness to a whole new level! The devices are useful for the whole family, and are changing our views on machines, widening access and making them an integral part of our lives.

Digital assistants and business

Digital assistants are disrupting our world, from how we shop and interact with our favourite brands, to how we drive our cars and organise our agendas. Consequently, more and more businesses are wanting to harness the power of digital assistants, not only to improve internal procedures through saving time and enhancing human ability, but also to expand their customer base, interact with their own customers, wherever they are and improve customer experience. For example, Virgin Active has recently become the first gym to integrate Amazon Alexa, meaning that gym go-ers can book their next gym class from the comfort of their sofa. Furthermore, Domino’s Pizza recently achieved break out sales, which it partly attributes to its Alexa Skill!

 

dominos

In addition, a recent study found that voice technology drives greater emotional connection with brands, driving engagement and creating deeper relationships between consumers and brands.

Innovation a go-go

The market space is fierce, with tech giants pulling out all the stops to create the most comprehensive digital assistant. Both Google and Amazon have announced their new proactive assistant features, in addition to hands free calling and visual responses. Irrelevant of the company making them, this is great news for the AI industry, powering innovation and creating a booming ecosystem, and further underlines the position of voice as the main medium for human to machine interaction. Voice is our most natural interface and technology is finally exploiting this.

🔊Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying?

Both Amazon and Google have recently announced proactive notifications for their respective connected devices. Instead of simply reacting to your demands, they will be able to light up when they have something to say. Awesome or, well, just plain annoying? Let’s investigate…

Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying

Notifications a go-go

We have all had the feeling of being harassed by our telephone when a multitude of application notifications flood in, so we can understand that you are perhaps rolling your eyes at the prospect of another device hassling you! However, the proactive notifications on both of the speakers will not be that intrusive; Google Home will simply light up, and Alexa will chime and light up, and both will only speak when prompted.

If done right and in the appropriate context, proactive notifications could be highly practical, for example, a cooking app could tell you when your water was boiling, you could be alerted to set off to your meeting earlier due to traffic issues or your car could tell you when you are low on gas… However, proactive voice notifications on assistants raise several issues. While notifications on a smartphone can be treated in a glance, listening to your digital assistant reel off a number of notifications is less practical. Amazon’s Echo Show is equipped with a screen, which could overcome this issue. However, this feature poses others concerns, for example, often users have more than one device, therefore, should the notifications be sent to all? Furthermore, most digital assistant owners are out during the day, so how should developers create the experience so users don’t feel bombarded when they return home and that users who are around the device all the time still find the feature useful? Google and Amazon will have to carefully consider how notifications are rolled out to make sure the devices don’t drive users crazy!

So, how exactly are they going to do it?

Google is keeping things uncomplicated to begin with. The device will light up (no sound) when it has a notification and, when prompted by the user saying “what’s up”, will give news regarding reminders, flight changes, traffic delays ahead of upcoming appointments.

“We’re going to start simple, with really important messages like reminders, traffic delays and flight status changes,” said Rishi Chandra, Google’s vice president of product management, on stage at I/O 2017. “With multiple user support, you will have the ability to control the type of proactive notifications you want over time.”

It appears that Google is playing it safe and ensuring it gets it right before elaborating the feature.

Psst: Did we mention how excited we are about Google Home coming to France this summer!

Amazon on the other hand is expanding notifications to all skills. Notifications on Echo devices and third party Alexa devices will be at the discretion of the developer that builds the skill and it has not been confirmed if Amazon will limit the number of notifications the developer wants to send. All notifications will be opt in and triggered by the user saying “Alexa, what did I miss today?” or “Alexa, what are my notifications?”. Amazon also stated that there will be the possibility of temporarily suppressing all notifications by employing the “do not disturb mode”.

Long road ahead

It’s still early days for proactive notifications, but clearly lots of challenges lie ahead for both of these Internet giants in order to fine tune this feature. While notifications can be useful for certain types of apps, for example breaking news, this capability can be exploited, as is often the case with push notifications. For example, news apps enable users to opt in for all or nothing notifications for breaking news and then push notifications for events that are not urgent. It will be interesting to see how developers expand this feature in the future, however, if they get it wrong, we might see a couple of devices thrown out of windows 😉

🌍 Google Home is coming to France: Why should you be excited?

Google recently announced its plans for the geographical expansion of Google Home. Among the countries in Google’s roadmap for this summer is France . Given that we have been flying the French flag for vocal technology since 2012, this announcement generated a lot of excitement at Smarty.AI’s HQ in Paris!

Here is a little video demo of Google Home:

International aspirations with an AI first strategy

Although no exact date was given for the release date in the 4 countries, it looks likely that the voice assistant will be arriving in summer time! This could indeed be a clever move by Internet giant. Alexa won the race to the US market and consequently won the lion’s share of the market and grew an established base of developers. Therefore, being the first AI assistant in France, Japan, Australia and Canada could prove very fruitful for Google Home.

US market voice assistant breakdown

US market voice assistant breakdown

The international expansion was announced at Google I/O, where CEO, Sundar Pichai, also detailed the company’s new strategy to progress from a mobile first to an artificial intelligence and machine learning first company. The aim is to enable digital assistants to anticipate user needs and understand sights and sounds in ways that were previously not possible on a huge scale.

New and improved features

Google I/O was also the occasion to reveal a number of new and improved features coming to Google Home were also announced, including:

Visual responses

The device will soon be able to send visual responses to televisions and phones. Google Home will consider the information being sent before choosing the destination device. For example, if you want directions, the best place to receive them is on your phone. However, if you require the latest weather report or information on your agenda, the visuals would be sent to your television.

Google Home visual responsesGoogle Home visual responses

Proactive assistant

Google Home will be able to think ahead for you by looking at your agenda and personal data. At the beginning this feature will be used for simple, but important things (reminders, flight changes, traffic…), and then developed further.

Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying? What do you think?

Free hands free calling

This feature was announced for US and Canada, and will enable a user to call any mobile or landline without requiring any setup! Home’s ability to identify multiple voices means it can figure out non-proper names like “Mum”. Users will have the option to call using a private number or their mobile number. Admittedly, this feature would have generated more buzz if Amazon hadn’t previously announced that Alexa can also do calls. However, Alexa is limited to device to device or device to app. Google is using its infrastructure and know how from Google Voice to make calling a frictionless hands-free process.

Improved entertainment support

In addition to Spotify’s music service, Google Home will soon support other popular music platforms including Deezer and SoundCloud. Plus, in addition to being currently able to stream Netflix, YouTube and Google Photos to televisions, Google Home will now support even more entertainment services, notably HBO Now and Hula.

And not forgetting developers

The Alphabet Inc unit also used its I/O developer conference to announce that, similar to how Amazon has done with the Alexa platform, it has opened the entire Google Assistant API to developers meaning that they can create their own voice commands and responses that can control the local device. The Google Assistant API will spread the Voice First platform to numerous new devices, appliances, automobiles and other products. Manufacturers will also be able to a “Google Assistant Building-in” logo and registry. Conference go-ers were offered a Google Home speaker and $700 worth of credits for its cloud-computing service. Google hopes this will encourage developers to build and test new voice-based apps (known as Actions on Google) for Google Assistant.

The digital assistant race

Although Amazon’s Alexa has a long head start, it seems that Google is catching up. The company is clearly pulling out all the stops to gain market share. However, the race is far from over, and let’s not forget Apple and Microsoft’s AI assistants, as well as the Orange’s recent announcement of Djingo, France’s first home grown assistant! Either way, its imminent arrival in France is great news for our AI scene and could be a critical move for increasing adoption in Europe! Vive l’innovation 😎