Blog post

From Touch to Sound: How Voice Technology Is Changing the IoT Landscape

Learn how speech recognition is driving the future of no-touch control systems in the era of social distancing

June 08, 2020

7 mins read

The raging COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on economies and societies. And while the long-term consequences of this global challenge are yet to be seen, there are already fundamental changes in how we interact and do business. Measures like social distancing and avoiding commonly touched surfaces give voice recognition a fresh momentum and push the move towards touch-free controls.

Speech recognition technology has been around for a while now. The first systems, developed in the early 1950s, were able to understand only numbers; by 2017 the technology reached human-level accuracy. This level of sophistication has enabled voice recognition to exponentially expand across industries and become a standard in connected gadgets. A recent PwC survey revealed that 90% of the respondents were familiar with voice-enabled assistants, and 72% of them had first-hand experience with the tech.
From Touch to Sound: How Voice Technology Is Changing the IoT Landscape
Source — PwC

With Millennials and Generation Z driving the adoption, voice technology is gradually moving into the mainstream. In fact, the global speech and voice recognition market is projected to reach $31.82 billion by 2025.

As some of the tech giants compete to gain a larger foothold in the market, it’s worth asking why the technology is so popular and what’s causing the shift towards voice.

What’s driving the voice revolution

The pandemic has highlighted the pressing need to rethink the way users interact with controllers in favor of no-touch systems. In addition to improving safety, voice-first technology is also enhancing the customer experience by adding convenience to communication, as we speak much faster than we type. By enabling verbal commands to touchless control systems, communication has become more natural and efficient.

In addition to the low-effort, high-comfort experience for users, there are other factors that underpin a shift to voiceless:

  • Global mobility of voice-enabled devices for on-the-go voice search
  • Extensive penetration of smart speakers into modern households
  • Progress in natural language processing (NLP) that enables sentiment analysis and general context understanding
  • Advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive personalized experiences
  • Ubiquity of voice-controlled IoT devices

As speech recognition systems continue to mature and become more sophisticated, voice technology is poised to reach billions of users in the years ahead. Experts predict that in the next 5 years nearly every app will integrate voice technology in some way or another.

Voice technology implementations

From home automation to eCommerce to healthcare to automotive, industries of all kinds are combining IoT capabilities with speech recognition technology to meet the shifting consumer demands and unlock business advantages.

Smart homes

A smart home ecosystem of interconnected devices and capabilities enables hassle-free remote access and real-time monitoring, but voice-enabled control systems take smart home automation to the next level.

Smart home hubs like Amazon Echo, Google Nest, and Samsung SmartThings allow users to use simple voice commands to manage connected devices — all from a single interface.

Digital workplace

Home is not the only place where voice-activated devices are making a difference. Voice technology is changing the workplace, too. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice.

Today, voice-enabled virtual assistants are helping employees boost efficiency and productivity by taking on the trivial but time-consuming tasks like scheduling meetings and interviews, setting up reminders, and more. Voice interfaces with speech-to-text capabilities can take notes for meetings, lectures, and conference calls, generate highlights and share with participants to streamline collaboration.

The conversational sales platform Tact.ai uses voice intelligence to automate and simplify workflows for sellers. The platform enables salespeople on the go to send emails, search for documents, dig through sales history, and more, simply by using voice commands.

Intelligent energy management

With the increasing adoption of home automation systems, voice-based assistants can easily access rich energy data from connected devices and put control back into users’ hands. Energy companies are starting to reach residential customers via Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and other virtual assistants to provide information on current energy use, offer personalized energy saving recommendations, and improve energy consumption efficiency.

Adding a voice assistant to a customer experience roadmap is also a great way to introduce a self-service channel and decrease call center costs. Conversational assistants help users to access account balance, find information on the best rates, get updates on outages and energy usage trends, and more.

A great example of how utility companies empower users with energy management tools is that of Octopus, an energy company that has teamed up with Alexa to combine real-time energy pricing with voice automation. Among other things, customers can ask the virtual assistant when their electricity will be the cheapest and then schedule the highest energy consumption tasks around that time to lower their electric bill.

Healthcare

In healthcare settings, IoT voice control helps improve patient experience and deliver personalized care. A smart voice-enabled assistant can update a patient’s medical record in real-time, provide information about medications and treatment procedures, and more.

Healthtech company Orbita offers a voice-enabled health virtual assistant that streamlines communication with hospital staff and dramatically reduces the response time. KidsMD launched by Boston Children’s Hospital allows parents to gain access to high-quality clinical information and specific treatment protocols on Alexa-enabled devices.

Voice payments

Voice technology has already been on the financial industry’s radar as a powerful tool to improve customer service, personalize financial journeys, and gain a competitive advantage. Big players like Bank of America and Ally Bank are utilizing text- and voice-based conversational agents to assist customers with checking their balance, setting up account alerts, tracking their spending, getting answers to frequently asked questions, and more. Challenger banks like Atom use voice biometrics to add another layer of security to their banking apps.

As people are gaining more trust in the technology, voice-enabled payments are also taking off. A recent study suggests that users are now more comfortable with using their voice to pay for low-priced goods, subscriptions, and on-demand movies, audio and TV shows.

Voice payment adoption rate in the United States
From Touch to Sound: How Voice Technology Is Changing the IoT Landscape
Source — Statista

Another potential use for voice technology in banking is with ATMs that are touched daily by thousands of people. Voice recognition could be an alternative way to authenticate users and perform transactions without the need for touch-based interactions — and in the post-pandemic world, that may become the new standard.

Learn how to leverage voice-enabled payments to improve banking experiences and boost customer satisfaction

Can this be applicable to industrial IoT?

Consumer IoT is not the only sector feeling the heat of voice technology. Voice-based devices can be game-changing in industrial IoT settings where high emphasis is placed on flexibility, efficiency, and sustainability.
From Touch to Sound: How Voice Technology Is Changing the IoT Landscape
51% of manufacturing companies are planning to expand the use of voice technology in the next five years.
Source: Zebra

Manufacturing plants, construction sites, production lines — all these industrial environments require hands-free mobility that IoT voice recognition systems can readily provide. When a worker needs to get additional instructions or search for a solution, voice control facilitates access to the required information through touchless and intuitive interaction.

By 2022, more than 50% of all people collaborating in Industry 4.0 ecosystems will use virtual assistants or intelligent agents to interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people.

Gartner: Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019

In a smart factory environment, a voice-based assistant can also perform functions like:

  • create work orders and log asset data
  • update the shipping status of an order
  • improve resource planning by accessing data from an integrated ERP system
  • integrate with asset management systems.

Voice-directed warehousing, or VDW for short, is also taking off. In high-intensity warehouse settings, a voice picking system uses speech recognition to help staff communicate with a warehouse management system and receive instructions by voice, which boosts productivity and reduces errors. ZetesMedia is a supplier of voice picking solutions that easily integrate with WMSs, ERPs, and other enterprise systems to optimize complex warehousing operations.

Implementation challenges

Leveraging voice technology in the industrial environment, however, is not without challenges. For voice controllers in IoT to be effective, the sound needs to be crystal clear and voice commands need to be understandable, which is not always easy to achieve in noisy workspaces. Not only does a voice-enabled assistant need to separate the human voice from background noises, but it also needs to support different languages and accents to be truly effective.

Another challenge faced by voice control in the Internet of Things is that not all IoT devices are connected to the Internet, or not always. To ensure reliable human–machine interaction, robust offline voice recognition capabilities are needed. NXP is addressing the market demand with its far-field offline voice control solution that leverages its state-of-the-art microcontroller to make it easier for OEMs and device manufacturers to integrate voice commands.

Onvego, a Tel Aviv–based AI startup, is also on a mission to enable voice activation of IoT devices even if they are offline. In addition to multi-language support, its voice solution is underpinned by machine learning algorithms to ensure fast training in enterprise-specific content.

Wrapping up

Touted as our future, voice-activated technology redefines the way we interact with the world in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Voice-enabled Internet of Things is increasingly moving from smart homes to industrial applications. And even though voice control comes with certain challenges, the benefits of speed, convenience, and hands-free interactions — especially in times of social distancing — are pushing the technology towards becoming an indispensable part of our lives.


Reach out to Intellias’ team of seasoned IoT professionals to discuss your next IoT project. As experts in consumer and industrial IoT applications, our software engineers are ready to help navigate IoT challenges and find the right solutions to your unique business needs.

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