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Creating the voice of IoT

Jan. 11, 2018
My last column spoke of carving the Face of Digital Transformation. This column is about creating a voice for that face with a new breed of voice services aimed at evolving devices. 

My last column spoke of carving the Face of Digital Transformation. This column is about creating a voice for that face with a new breed of Voice Services aimed at evolving devices.

The speed at which the voice of IoT is being created is amazing; the smart speaker forecast predicts 66.3 million US households will have a device by 2022. The report also estimates that 26.7 million households will own smart home devices other than smart speakers. Amazon and Google Share 92% of the Global Market.

Here are the top reasons people turn to their voice-activated speakers (according to, a consumer-insights web site):

1. It allows them to more easily multitask.

2. It enables them to do things faster than other devices.

3. It empowers them to instantly get answers and information.

4. It makes their daily routine easier.

Virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri or Google Home, have become an increasingly common sight in homes across the world thanks to smart speakers. Like cyber personal assistants, they are connecting with residential systems, such as lighting and thermostats, to automate and simplify the way we run our homes.

This article, “Alexa, Would You Like To Go To Work With Me Today?” by James McHale, Managing Director of Memoori, discusses how fast Voice Services will move out of the home or hobby arena and into our workspace:

I am glad we are all playing with these virtual assistants. The concept can be hard to grasp without actually talking/interacting with these devices. Now we talk directly to the things of IoT which greatly simplifies our interaction with them. Voice becomes the lowest cost set up tool, and when coupled with the ubiquitous cell phone it is cheaper than touch screens or even old-school buttons and switches. I am very impressed with how easily it allows very different things to be grouped into one simple spoken command. The amazing connections between entertainment, education, and more give it an immediate value that is so easy to build on.

These voices are moving out of their comfortable home of smart speakers into those other things in the IoT world.

Google has a real war on its hands in this arena. As the cost keeps dropping voice services/assistant devices are evolving as part of all open products – the things of the Internet of Things. But because voice interface is becoming a giveaway item it is destined to soon be everywhere.

What might even be scarier than a giveaway item is that companies will pay you to have their voice service in your product.

This article by Lisa Lacy for, Improving search and advertising are the next frontiers for voice-activated devices, agrees:

Indeed, as voice search expands — to the tune of 50 percent of all searches by 2020 (according to some estimates) — so, too, do opportunities for platforms to cash in beyond products and services. In fact, in an earnings call last year, Google acknowledged voice search would drive industry-wide change, but it did not detail its plans.

In our building automation world, these voices are moving out of their comfortable home of smart speakers into those other things in the IoT world. For example, the ecobee thermostat comes with built-in Alexa Voice Service. So you can ask your ecobee to set a timer, read you the news, adjust the temperature, and more. With Far-field voice technology, the ecobee4 can hear you from across the room. Room sensors help manage hot or cold spots in your home, delivering comfort to the rooms that need it the most. And of course users can adjust temperature and comfort settings from anywhere using their Android and iOS devices

Alexa will soon help you make popcorn with voice-controlled microwaves via @DigitalTrends 

So many new things now come with all the features we have come to expect, from speaking to speakers. In fact, companies like Google and Amazon have an open invitation to manufacturers who would like to integrate their Voice Service into their product. Why wouldn’t they? This is all possible thanks to large software identities cobbling together existing standards while creating their own standards and platforms.

Do you have one or more of these Virtual Assistants? We have had Google Home at our house for a long time but just bought an echo dot as a Christmas gift. I am amazed at the simplicity of set up. While this device was visiting our house it was able to take control of existing Wi-Fi color controlled lights, Xmas tree, heat, etc., all within moments of taking it out of the box. The different assistants played well together reacting only when spoken to. The $50 dot was amazing value and is rapidly becoming a giveaway item as part of other products. We had both devices talking to three different manufacturers of Wi-Fi devices, all reacting to one simple voice command.

In the middle of all this voice/phone device setup, the Wi-Fi color light bulb asked me if I wished to update its software. I answered yes, it took a moment, then winked at me, changed color and switched itself on and off. I was impressed but, I guess if it had found its voice it should have told me, "Ok I am done now, please proceed.”

(So you have found me out. When I am not writing these columns I entertain myself by talking to light bulbs!)

OK, I lost the thread . Let’s get back to the reality of Edge standards.  Our best read article for January over at is What's Happening at the Edge of IT/OT Convergence by Therese Sullivan, Principal, BuildingContext Ltd (including an interview with Jason Shepard, Dell Technologies Director of IoT Strategy).

Although the voice is not directly a part of this article, it does fall into “analytics of the analytics,” and suggests a path to open source to escape the complete control of major software companies:

Adoption of a standardized framework like EdgeX empowers IoT app developers to dynamically optimize where and when compute and storage should occur in the edge to cloud continuum for optimal results and lowest overall cost. I call this performing “analytics of the analytics.”  As part of this, developers will increasingly realize the importance of microservices and decouple “things” from applications.

But the message is the size and cost of both device and platform are shrinking.  This article, Open Software – and now Open Hardware by George Thomas of Contemporary Controls speaks to the concept of Open hardware standards evolving for complex devices.

I was curious that within a show displaying highly engineered industrial equipment if hobbyist computing platforms such as Raspberry Pi and BeagleBoard would appear and they did… One company was completely committed to Raspberry Pi designs as I/O controllers and protocol converters.  Another company with a well-known name in the industry was showing a Raspberry Pi design that was not made by them—but made by the Raspberry Pi people themselves to the requirements of this OEM.  It is not a stretch to call these hobbyist platforms or micro PCs open hardware that could eventually influence the design of future industrial and building controls.

And here is an interview I did with Tory Davis, Sales Director, enOcean, Inc. My take-away quote:

That’s where the beauty of wireless comes in, and wireless is what’s allowing the industries to coalesce into one platform.

That word coalesce – to come together and form one mass or whole -- is another great way to look at our coming digital transformation; but we must preserve our core principles in the process.

So join in "The Talk To Me" evolution/revolution which gives a voice to the face of digital transformation. My next column will explore giving the face and the voice of digital transformation a brain. If the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz is any guide, it will take more than just a diploma to make that digital transformation happen!

About the Author

Ken Sinclair | Editor/Owner/Founder

Ken Sinclair has been called an oracle of the digital age. He sees himself more as a storyteller and hopes the stories he tells will be a catalyst for the IoT future we are all (eventually) going to live. The more than 50 chapters in that ongoing story of digital transformation below are peppered with HTML links to articles containing an amazing and diverse amount of information.

Ken believes that systems will be smarter, self-learning, edgy, innovative, and sophisticated, and to create, manage and re-invent those systems the industry needs to grow our most important resource, our  younger people, by reaching out to them with messages about how vibrant, vital and rewarding working in this industry can be.

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