Everyone seems to be talking about this as the year of the wearable. I don’t think so. Even if Apple does introduce a watch, and Google widely releases Glass, will they really go mainstream and sell hundreds of millions of units? I don’t think so. At least not for a few years. IMHO there needs to be a few major breakthroughs:

  1. Apps. Yeah we always need a killer app. I don’t think sending little messages and alerts is enough. The killer app could be a great music player…maybe one that’s completely voice controlled? Glass has the potential to augment my knowledge without my asking and that could be really cool, basically look and learn!
  2. Power. Why hasn’t battery power advanced beyond lithium? I’m hoping for energy harvesting breakthroughs that will allow devices to last and be tiny…to fulfill number 3.
  3. Invisibility. I stopped wearing a watch when I began carrying a smart phone. I never wear my wedding ring. I need something pretty comfortable and compelling to dangle electronics off of my body. What I really want is something invisible or near invisible. Moto has a tattoo patent for electronics, right? Then there’s the micro-electronic pills…when will we have seamless attachments to augment our abilities?
  4. Untethered. It would be really cool if I could travel around town without having to carry my phone to use a wearable. It kind of does defeat the purpose. It isn’t that hard to pull my phone out. If I could go a few miles that would be nice…20 would be even better. A completely untethered self-contained unit would be nice, but unlikely to be invisible!

I’ll be leading a Wearables panel at the Mobile Voice show with an AWESOME group of people representing thought leaders from Google, Pebble, Intel, Xowi, and reQall. Here’s the press release

on it.

I spent last week at CES in Las Vegas. What a show!

The big keynote speech was the night before the show started and was given by Brian Krzanich, Intel’s new CEO. His talk was focused on Wearables, and he demonstrated 3 wearable devices (charger, in-ear, and platform architecture). The platform demo included a live on stage use of speech recognition with the low power wake up provided by Sensory. The demo was a smashing success! Several bloggers called it a “canned” demo assuming it couldn’t be live speech recognition if it worked so flawlessly!

I had a chance to walk through the Wearables area. Holy smoke there must have been 20 or 30 smart watches, a similar number of health bands, and even a handful of glasses vendors. In fact, seeing attendees wearing Google’s Glass was quite common place. The smart watches mostly communicate with Bluetooth, and some of the smaller, lighter devices, use Zigbee, ultra-low power Bluetooth, or Ant+ for wireless communications.

Sensory was all over CES, here’s some of the things Sensory sales people were able to catch us in:

  • LG new Flex phone – Cool curved phone
  • LG G2 phone – latest greatest phone from LG
  • Samsung Note 3 – new Note product
  • Samsung Android camera – command and control by Sensory!
  • Samsung new 12.4 tablet
  • Plantronics – miscellaneous headsets
  • Intel – great keynote from Intel CEO, and behind closed doors platform demos
  • Conexant – showing TV controlled by Sensory
  • ivee – clock that controls home appliances
  • Ubi – IoT product
  • Motorola – Awesome Touchless Control feature on several phones
  • Telenav - Scout navigation now hands-free
  • Cadence – showing our music control demo.
  • Realtek – showing deeply embedded PC
  • DSPG – great glasses (wearable) demo on low power chips
  • Wolfson –trigger to search demo on low power chips
  • Sensory voice command demo on CEVA TeakLite-4

Overall a great show for Sensory. Jeff Rogers, Sensory’s VP Sales told me, “A few people said they had searched out speech recognition products on the show floor to find the various speech vendors, and found that they all were using Sensory.”

Interview with the Scobleizer   December 13th, 2013

Sensory’s PR firm set up an interview for me with Blogger Robert Scoble a couple of weeks ago. I showed up in their SFO office a few minutes early, and like clockwork Robert came through the front door, grabbed me and took me to a videotaping room (surprise to me…He’s a Video Blogger). They hooked up a mic and Robert said “my first question will be ‘who are you’…tell me something personal about you, and then we’ll move on to questions about your company”. I said OK, they ran a quick audio test and BAM we were off and done in 15 minutes!

KitKat’s Listening!   November 15th, 2013

Android introduced the new KitKat OS for the Nexus 5, and Sensory has gotten lots of questions about the new “always listening” feature that allows a user to say “OK Google” followed by a Google Now search. Here’s some of the common questions:

  1. Is it Sensory’s? Did it come from LG (like the hardware)? Is it Google’s in-house technology? I believe it was developed within the speech team at Android. LG does use Sensory’s technology in the G2, but this does not appear to be an implementation of Sensory. Google has one of the smartest, most capable, and one of the larger speech recognition groups in the industry, and they certainly have the chops to build a key word spotting technology. Actually, developing a voice activated trigger is not very hard. There are several dozens of companies that can do this today (including Qualcomm!). However, making it useable in an “always on” mode is very difficult where accuracy is really important.
  2. The KitKat trigger is just like the one on MotoX, right? Ugh, definitely not. Moto X really has “always on” capabilities. This requires low power operation. The Android approach consumes too much power to be left “always on”. Also, the Moto X approach combines speaker verification so the “wrong” users can’t just take over the phone with their voice. Motorola is a Sensory licensee, Android isn’t.
  3. How is Sensory’s trigger word technology different than others?
    • First of all, Sensory’s approach is ultra low power. We have IC partners like Cirrus Logic, DSPG, Realtek, and Wolfson that are measuring current consumption in the 1.5-2mA range. My guess is that the KitKat implementation consumes 10-100 times more power than this. This is for 2 reasons, 1) We have implemented a “deeply embedded” approach on these tiny DSPs and 2) Sensory’s approach requires as little as 5 MIPS, whereas most other recognizers need 10 to 100 times more processing power and must run on the power hungry Android processor!
    • Second…Sensory’s approach requires minimal memory. These small DSP’s that run at ultra low power allow less RAM and more limited memory access. The traditional approach to speech recognition is to collect tons of data and build huge models that take a lot of memory…very difficult to move this approach onto low power silicon.
    • Thirdly, to be left always on really pushes accuracy, and Sensory is VERY unique in the accuracy of its triggers. Accuracy is usually measured in looking at the two types of errors – “false accepts” when it fires unintentionally, and “false rejects” when it doesn’t let a person in when they say the right phrase. When there’s a short listening window, then “false accepts” aren’t too much of an issue, and the KitKat implementation has very intentionally allowed a “loose” setting which I suspect would produce too many false accepts if it was left “always on”. For example, I found this YouTube video that shows “OK Google” works great, but so does “OK Barry” and “OK Jarvis”
    • Finally, Sensory has layered other technologies on top of the trigger, like speaker verification, and speaker identification. Also Sensory has implemented a “user defined trigger” capability that allows the end customer to define their own trigger, so the phone can accurately and at ultra low power respond to the users personalized commands!
  1. Radio Rex. There’s always something special about the first one - this was from almost 100 years ago! Rex was a toy dog that lived in a doghouse, and the waveform from calling his name would vibrate a spring at a certain frequency that would make Rex exit the doghouse. Basically, a mechanical speech recognition device!
  2. Radar the Robot. Sure, this list will be highly biased with products that used Sensory technology. Fisher Price released Radar the Robot back in 1995! Radar would talk to kids, sing songs with them, do math games, word games, and much, much more. I remember one of my kids walking into my room and speaking in a robotic voice to imitate Radar, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Would you like to play word games? Please say yes or no.”
  3. Password Journal. Not only is this the bestselling girls’ electronic product of all time, but it uses voice biometrics as a key feature (to lock a diary). I once heard that half of all 11-year-old girls in the US have a diary and their top concern is that someone unintended will open it and read it. This product was so successful that Girltech, the company Sensory worked with, was acquired by Radica, who was then acquired by Mattel. Most new toy introductions have a 1-2 year life. This product, and its many revisions, has been on the market for over 15 years!
  4. Voice Signal and VOS light switches. Voice Signal Technologies was a company started around 1995 to build voice controlled light switches. They got so excited about speech technology that they successfully transitioned into a leader in embedded speech (they went from Sensory’s customer to competitor!), and were eventually sold to Nuance for just under $300M! Sensory’s customer VOS also made light switches. VOS even introduced a Star-Trek branded light switch and licensed Majel Roddenberry’s voice. Computer Lights On!
  5. Uniden Voice Dial. I’ll never forget the thrill of landing in Las Vegas for CES, and going down the escalator into the baggage claim area and seeing a HUGE sign saying “Uniden Introduces VoiceDial.” The phones worked great. They even ran a TV commercial featuring the famous sumo wrestler Konishiki saying “Pizza-man.”
  6. Moshi Clock. What a great clock! You could set the alarm or time just by speaking to it. The clock would even tell you the weather. And this was pre-SIRI!!
  7. BlueAnt V1. BlueAnt moved two steps ahead of its competitors with the V1. It had a completely voice-driven user interface that replaced the buttons and flashing lights on a Bluetooth headset. This was probably the first consumer electronic device that enabled a full and complex VUI-based experienced. And the reviews were some of best reviews I have ever seen.
  8. Apple SIRI/iPhone 4s. SIRI was an amazing breakthrough for voice recognition - not so much in the capabilities it presented, but in the marketing and brand support behind it. When Apple said the time was right for speech recognition, the world listened and consumer electronic OEMs suddenly changed!
  9. Google Glass. OK, it’s not shipping yet, but they have taken a VERY novel approach to speech by using what they refer to in the press as “hotword” models. We in the industry call this Keyword spotting. I handed my Glass to my wife and she put it on and said “You mean I just say OK Glass? Oh now I see all these other things so I can say Get Directions to Chef Chus restaurant? Woah! It’s showing me directions to Chef Chus!” The device throws out all the wrong words and captures the key words it wants to hear then seamlessly switches to a cloud-based recognizer.

  10. Motorola MotoX. 15M plus views for a TV commercial featuring voice control!!! And the users LOVE it! Touchless Control is one of the best reviewed apps in the GooglePlay store!

Secretive Customers and Partners   October 3rd, 2013

It’s a very exciting time here at Sensory. Voice recognition is gaining steam with consumers, and we’re seeing Sensory’s technology in more devices and products than ever before. I absolutely love turning on the TV and seeing a commercial for a Sensory-enabled product! Unfortunately, we can’t always divulge when Sensory technology is helping to power the speech technology in an electronic device.

So it’s always extra special when one of our partners wants to tell the world that we are working together. Our IP partner CEVA did just that when they surprised us the other day with this AWESOME video that features Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree technology. It was such a great surprise to see this video, and we’re thrilled that CEVA is as excited about our technology as we are!

I think everybody in the speech industry must know about Motorola’s touchless control feature. Their ad campaign using comedian/actor TJ Miller has been a smashing success. Although their ads started off a bit racy (“touch each other not phones”), the switch to Miller introduced  the “lazy phone guy” (which appears to be a knock on Apple) and better  showcases key features and advantages of Moto X. The big advantage is in the low power speech activation technology that calls up Google Now without touching the phone!

The lazy phone campaign has ads for each of the device’s key features – Touchless Control, Quick Capture, Active Notifications, and the “Design It Yourself” concept. They are all entertaining, but it’s the touchless control that brings the most laughs. The first video went viral with over 15 million views, making it one of the most popular mobile phone ads ever.

Here’s the new  touchless control ad. It’s pretty funny with hundreds of thousands of views and growing!

Hello MOTO!   September 24th, 2013

Motorola, who just happens to be a Sensory customer, launched a suite of new phones including Moto X and three Droids – Maxx, Ultra, and Mini - all with this awesome feature called “touchless control.” The “touchless control” uses a technology to wake up the phone by voice from a low power state, so the phone is always on and listening. Sorta like TrulyHandsfree! It links into GoogleNow so you can control pretty much anything and access information without touching the phone.

  • Moto launched an advertising campaign around the Lazy Phone Guy. These are my favorite ads ever, and the best of all these ads is the “no touching” Moto X phone. It’s already hit about 15M views!
  • Just saw this AdAge article about the Lazy Phone gone viral and beating out iPhone at its new launch. Says the touch ad has hit about 20M!
  • Even more impressive are the customer reviews for the “touchless control” technology. It’s one of the highest rated apps in the GooglePlay shop.

A big month for Sensory!   September 20th, 2013

Thought I’d share a few quick highlights of exciting things happening at Sensory.

  • Just hired a rockstar technologist to lead our spoken language efforts…more on this in the months ahead as we put together a new team in a new satellite location.
  • Also hired some to head Sensory’s efforts into vision technology…moving towards my long term VISION of what SENSORY should be!
  • LG shipped the new flagship G2 phone. Smart move to include Sensory, if I do say so myself.
  • Samsung shipped its new Galaxy Note 3 with TrulyHandsfree from Sensory!
  • Honeywell announced its smart thermostat with Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree voice control!
  • Texas Instruments released a video featuring Sensory’s VP Sales Jeff Rogers in action with TrulyHandsfree!

Samsung was kind enough to invite me to their roll-out of Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note 3, but I had no plans to be at IFA Berlin, and I couldn’t justify the time to get out to New York.  I did catch some of the roll-out live on my computer…a few misc. thoughts:

  • Who was that guy with the weird glasses? Was that a European thing, or jab at Google Glass?
  • I remembered a few years back when the first Note was introduced. Everyone thought it was crazy big. Samsung was right! Samsung won, and foresaw the direction of the mobile phone.
  • Does anybody think it’s a coincidence that Google’s acquisition of WIMM (smart Android watch) and Qualcomm’s move into the Smartwatch space with Toq all happen in the same week as Samsung intros its Galaxy Gear watch?
  • S -Voice is in Note 3 and Galaxy Gear! Great move for Samsung! Wearables, with their smaller displays and almost non-existent keyboards, definitely need speech recognition as part of a multi-modal interface.
  • Seems like Steve Jobs had it right about the close integration of consumer hardware and software. Everyone seems to be following in Apple’s footsteps. Google/Moto, Microsoft/Nokia, and now Qualcomm, with Toq, are getting into consumer hardware. Although maybe Toq is just an attempt to promote their display tech from Mirasol
  • Qualcomm is expanding its business models these days. Along with their move into smart watches, they also recently announced they are licensing chip IP. They even have their own in-house speech recognizer. I wonder what Samsung thinks of Qualcomm’s announcement of Toq?