Way to go Moto Voice   September 5th, 2014

I was very excited to hear Motorola’s announcements today about the new Moto X, MotoG, Moto Hint and Moto 360.

What particularly caught my ear was the statement that they were changing the name from Touchless Control to Moto Voice.  They made this decision because so many people thought the technology came from Google in the form of Android, and Moto wanted everyone to know it DIDN’T come from Google.

Actually…It came from Sensory.  At least we were an important part of it!!! We have been working on the cool new user defined triggers and are excited that Moto has adopted them for the flagship MotoX (Write-up).

This feature was announced in our TrulyHandsfree 3.0

The new Moto Hint headset is really cool too. It’s a bit like Intel’s Jarvis headset that was announced by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at CES (and of course uses Sensory!). Here’s a release we did a while back that tells about the technology deployed to connect a Bluetooth headset to a handset through a seamless voice command sequence, Press Release.

Of course the Moto360 is AWESOME, and has some pretty cool voice control features. Yes, Sensory has done an “OK Google” trigger…we even benchmarked our trigger against Google’s…I might share the results in an upcoming blog if there is interest.

I Love Robots!   July 31st, 2014

Yeah, I grew up in an era of watching robots on TV and in the movies, and reading about them in books and comic strips. They were and still are a part of our media culture. My goal in life has been to live in a Jetsons-like world! Well, not really, but I do have a film slide of Rosie the Maid up on my wall, and the mod, Googie, mid-century future style from the Jetsons is definitely my style.

It’s been fun at Sensory to be part of a robot revolution in toys. We have put speech technologies into over 50 robotic creatures from dolls to strange new alien things like Furby. When Aibo first shipped, we had half a dozen companies come to us with awesome designs for new low cost robotic dogs that could respond to their masters’ voices!

Here’s a fun realistic looking robot dog – Scamps.  Sensory was in this a few years ago, and it seems to be enjoying a huge comeback in 2014.

More recently we were in Intel’s “Jarvis” headset…When we first created the Jarvis trigger, I didn’t get the name. Then I saw the movie Ironman! :-)

Sensory has designed a lot of robotic technologies beyond speech recognition and synthesis. We have platforms such as sound sourcing, where a robot with two mics can locate the speaker through triangulation. We have sonic networking as a low cost wireless protocol so robots can take commands from TV commercials or YouTube videos or even other robots. We even have made lip synchronization approaches and pitch detection technologies so robots can mimic their owners in a fun and playful way.

The rise of robotic vacuum and window cleaners and non-toy robotic applications is really Neato (yeah that’s a pun!) Of course there have been a lot of beer delivery home robots over the years too, but none of them are making it into the mainstream.

The magic however has not yet really hit, because I want the fun, playfulness, and interactivity of the toys but with utility added in, so it really is more like the Jetsons or Lost in Space.

Jibo is a new robot that might foot this bill, and it seems that I’m not the only one that likes the concept,  as it is getting pretty close to being one of the Top 10 funded Indiegogo campaigns of all time!

Spoofing Biometrics   July 25th, 2014

I see a bit of irony that a great Saturday Night Live alumnus is launching a campaign to decrease spoofing. I’m talking about Senator Al Franken, who has been looking into the problem of stolen fingerprints, see article.

Senator Franken challenges Samsung and Apple with some fair concerns about the problem of stolen or spoofed biometrics. The issue is that most biometrics that could be stolen can’t be easily replaced. We only have one face, two eyes, and 10 fingers, so not a lot of chances to replace or change them if they are stolen.

The mobile phone companies, challenged on the fingerprint issue, had two responses:

  1. The biometric data is ON DEVICE. This is very important because when it’s stored in the clouds it becomes much more accessible to a hacker AND much more desirable because the payoff is a whole lot of user information. Cloud security is often hacked into, such as the recent break-in of the European Central Bank. In fact many banks I have spoken to insist that passwords can’t be stored in the clouds because they are just too easy to hack that way.
  2. The fingerprint biometric is not stored as a fingerprint image, but as some sort of mathematical representation. I’m not sure I understand this argument because if the digital representation can be copied and replicated, then the system is cracked whether or not it looks like a fingerprint.

I think Franken is right to question the utility of biometric fingerprints, because a product like Sensory’s TrulySecure (combining voice and vision authentication) offers a large number of advantages:

  1. The TrulySecure biometric is not easy to copy or find. Unlike a fingerprint which gets left everywhere, a voice print with a video image of a person saying a particular phrase is NOT easy to find, and even if well recorded, would fall apart with Sensory’s anti-spoofing technology that requires a live image.
  2. The TrulySecure biometric is readily changeable. Unlike the nine chances that a user has to replace a fingerprint, there are a virtually unlimited number of TrulySecure password phrases that can be used. If by some nearly impossible chance a TrulySecure biometric phrase is copied, it can be changed in a matter of seconds and a virtually unlimited number of times.
  3. TrulySecure works across conditions. Every biometric seems to have a failure mode. Fingerprint sensors seem to require a highly directionalized swipe of a very clean finger. If I cut my finger or have a little peanut butter on it, it just doesn’t work. Likewise a voiceprint by itself might fail in high noise, and a faceprint might fail in low lighting, but that magical dual biometric fusion in TrulySecure seems immune to conditions.

Here’s a demo I gave to UberGizmo in a somewhat dark and very noisy hotel lobby. I like this demo because it shows a real world situation and how FAST TrulySecure works.

Here’s a more canned demo on Sensory’s home page that better showcases some of the anti-spoofing features.

Random Blogger Thoughts   June 30th, 2014

  • TrulySecure™ is now announced!!!! This is the first on device fusion of voice and vision for authentication, and it really works AMAZINGLY well. I’m so proud of our new computer vision team and in Sensory’s expansion from speech recognition to speech and vision technologies. Now we are much more than “The Leader in Speech Technologies for Consumer Electronics”- we are “The Leader in Speech and Vision Technology for Consumer Products!” Hey check out the new TrulySecure video on our home page, and our new TrulySecure Product Brief. We hope and expect that TrulySecure will have the same HUGE impact on the market as Sensory had with TrulyHandsfree, the technology that pioneered always on touch less control!
  • Google I/O. Android wants to be everywhere: in our cars, in our homes, and in our phones. They are willing to spend billions of dollars to do it. Why? To observe our behaviors, which in turn will help provide us more of what we want…and they will also assist in those purchases. Of course this is what Microsoft and Apple and others want as well, but right now Google has the best cloud based voice experience, and if you ask me it’s the best user experience that will win the game. Seems like they should try and move ahead on the client, but lucky for Sensory we are staying ahead!
  • Rumors about Samsung acquiring Nuance…Why would they spend $7B for Nuance when they can pick up a more unique solution from Sensory for only $1B? Yeah, that’s a joke, and is definitely not intended as an offer or solicitation to sell Sensory!
  • OH! Sensory has a new logo! We made it to celebrate our 20 year anniversary!

Touch-less Control Wins!   June 9th, 2014

I still subscribe to the San Jose Mercury News, as they do a good job of tech business reporting. One of my favorite Mercury News writers is a true critic in the literary sense of the term, Troy Wolverton. Troy rarely raves and is typically critical, but in a smart, logical, and unemotional way.

A few days back he started writing about Microsoft’s  Cortana and said “Watch out Siri, someone wants your job.”

I was eager to read his review of Cortana this morning and in particular his comparison with Siri. He ended up giving it a 7/10, and concluding Siri was still ahead. What I thought was most interesting though was that in his final summary, he compared three products and three assistants based on the ease of calling up each of those assistants:

  • Cortana – required two touch steps to activate the personal voice assistant
  • Siri – required one touch step to activate the personal voice assistant
  • MotoX – The best, because you can just start talking with the keyword phrase “OK Google Now” making a TrulyHandsfree experience!!

Motorola is Sensory’s customer, and I am happy to read that Troy gets it and considers this front end activation an important metric in comparing personal assistants!

It was about 4 years ago that Sensory partnered with Vlingo to create a voice assistant with a special “in car” mode that would allow the user to just say “Hey Vlingo” then ask any question. This was one of the first “TrulyHandsfree” voice experiences on a mobile phone, and it was this feature that was often cited for giving Vlingo the lead in the mobile assistant wars (and helped lead to their acquisition by Nuance).

About 2 years ago Sensory introduced a few new concepts including “trigger to search” and our “deeply embedded” ultra-low power always listening (now down to under 2mW, including audio subsystem!). Motorola took advantage of these excellent approaches from Sensory and created what I most biasedly think is the best voice experience on a mobile phone. Samsung too has taken the Sensory technology and used in a number of very innovative ways going beyond mere triggers and using the same noise robust technology for what I call “sometimes always listening”. For example when the camera is open it is always listening for “shoot” “photo” “cheese” and a few other words.

So I’m curious about what Google, Microsoft, and Apple will do to push the boundaries of voice control further. Clearly all 3 like this “sometimes always on” approach, as they don’t appear to be offering the low power options that Motorola has enabled. At Apple’s WWDC there wasn’t much talk about Siri, but what they did say seemed quite similar to what Sensory and Vlingo did together 4 years ago…enable an in car mode that can be triggered by “Hey Siri” when the phone is plugged in and charging.

I don’t think that will be all…I’m looking forward to seeing what’s really in store for Siri. They have hired a lot of smart people, and I know something good is coming that will make me go back to the iPhone, but for now it’s Moto and Samsung for me!

Nick Bilton, in a New York Times article, cites Forrester Research analysts who point out the importance of software in differentiating and creating value in the wearables market while avoiding commoditization.

While the new hardware is fun and exciting for consumers, the ultimate value will come from creating a connection and engaging the consumers with effective and useful analysis of all the data collected. And in the small wearable form factor, the user interface is always going to be critical. With little or no room for buttons and displays, and not always having a smartphone handy to run an app, voice will increasingly become the user interface of choice for these devices.

Sensory is very well positioned to support voice user interfaces for wearables with ultra-low power implementations that can be woken by a gesture, and quickly respond to commands or shut down to minimize impact on battery life. Watch this space (pun intended) for product announcements of wearables with great voice user interfaces!

If you read through the biometrics literature you will see a general security based ranking of biometric techniques starting with retinal scans as the most secure, followed by iris, hand geometry and fingerprint, voice, face recognition, and then a variety of behavioral characteristics.

The problem is that these studies have more to do with “in theory” than “in practice” on a mobile phone, but they never-the-less mislead many companies into thinking that a single biometric can provide the results required. This is really not the case in practice. Most companies will require that False Accepts (error caused by wrong person or thing getting in) and False Rejects (error caused by the right person not getting in) be so low that the rate where these two are equal (equal error rate or EER) would be well under 1% across all conditions. Here’s why the studies don’t reflect the real world of a mobile phone user:

  1. Cost is key. Mobile phone manufacturers will not be willing to invest in the highest end approaches for capturing and measuring biometrics that are used by academic studies. This means less MIPS less memory, and poorer quality readers.
  2. Size matters. Mobile phone manufacturers have extremely limited real estate, so larger systems cannot be properly deployed, and further complicating things is that an extremely fast enrollment and usage is required without a form factor change.
  3. Conditions are uncontrollable. Noisy environments, lighting, dirty hands, oily screens/cameras/readers are all uncontrollable and will affect performance
  4. User compliance cannot be assumed. The careful placement of an eye, finger or face does not always happen.

A great case in point is the fingerprint readers now deployed by Apple and Samsung. These are extremely expensive devices, and the literature would make one think that they are highly accurate, but Apple doesn’t have the confidence to allow them to be used in the iTunes store for ID, and San Jose Mercury News columnist Troy Wolverton says:

“I’ve not been terribly happy with the fingerprint reader on my iPhone, but it puts the one on the S5 to shame. Samsung’s fingerprint sensor failed repeatedly. At best, I would get it to recognize my print on the second try. But quite often, it would fail so many times in a row that I’d be prompted to enter my password instead. I ended up turning it off because it was so unreliable (full article).”

There is a solution to this problem…It’s to utilize sensors already on the phone to minimize cost, and deploy a biometric chain combining face verification, voice verification, or other techniques that can be easily implemented in a user friendly manner that allows the combined usage to create a very low equal error rate, that become “immune” to conditions and compliance issues by having a series of biometric and other secure backup systems.

Sensory has an approach we call SMART, Sensory Methodology for Adaptive Recognition Thresholding that takes a look at environmental and usage conditions and intelligently deploys thresholds across a multitude of biometric technologies to yield a highly accurate solution that is easy to use and fast in responding yet robust to environmental and usage models AND uses existing hardware to keep costs low.

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.”