Smart Speakers Make Enterprise-Level Inroads
Smart speakers gotten powerful enough to solve a lot of problems for AV integrators and their clients—and just mature enough to start being easier to customize and control.
Right now, smart speakers are enjoying maximum visibility as devices for the home, playing music for people via their smartphone or the cloud, dialing up recipes, and turning IoT (Internet of Things) devices on and off. The Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo, Google Home, newly launched Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana digital assistant, and the upcoming Apple HomePod are just some of the proliferating players.
AV is hot on the tail of this consumer electronics trend, with smart speakers’ potential for everything from huddle rooms to hotel suites emerging quickly.
“A ‘Smart Speaker’ is a Wi-Fi connected speaker and microphone with an associated natural language processor that translates speech to code—resulting in capabilities akin to those you might expect from an assistant,” explains Dave Berger, CEO of Volara, a provider of custom voice-based solutions to the hospitality industry. “With enterprise-level integrations, particularly in the hotel environment, it becomes a very powerful business tool.”
The benefit of smart speakers is their ability to provide super-intuitive control over complex systems. People have to be trained to use a computer, whereas a voice speaker can just be spoken to and it understands what you’re saying. A lot of that breakthrough comes from new machine-learning technologies that allow the computer to understand naturally what we’re asking. You can say, ‘Turn on the lights, turn off the lights,’ but that’s basic; computers have been able to do that for quite some time. Now you can say, ‘Turn on the lights throughout the house,’ or ‘Turn on the lights in a certain room,’—something more specific.
In hotels in Asia, for example, there’s now a lot of these highly automated rooms that have many different lighting configurations and buttons throughout the room. Now, imagine you could just go in and talk to the room in whatever language that you speak, and they would turn on and off the lights any way you want, or change the TV channels, or select English channels only. Things like that become possible with voice interfaces.
For Bill Lally, president of the hospitality integration firm Mode:Green, the ability for smart speakers to scale quickly in AV scenarios is a source of excitement. “These devices are becoming a connecting point,” he said. “Our interest in smart speakers is not as much in the functionality of the device talking to one particular system, but of the device talking to 10 different systems while appearing seamless to the end user. Users are just having a conversation and it’s not scary, even for people who are less comfortable interacting with computers and screens. You can walk into a boardroom, for example, and say, ‘Turn the projector on,’ and you don’t have to do anything.”
It’s not surprising that hotels have been identified as hotspots by entrepreneurs like Berger and Lally, whose firms recently partnered to bring custom voice control to these establishments with super-high turnover among their users, a.k.a. guests.
“One of the biggest challenges in hospitality is that we don’t have the ability for training like we would in a corporate environment,” Lally pointed out. “In the boardroom, we work with the team for a couple of weeks to teach them how everything works. On the hospitality side, we have to be quick, very streamlined, and simplistic in how we design systems.”
“Voice control is a new way to look at a project and come up with new solutions,” he said. “It’s giving us access to all these other interfaces and devices that we didn’t have access to before. It’s kind of a new world.”