Speech Technology Magazine

 

Speech-Enabled Virtual Assistants for Landlines?

By Leonard Klie - Posted Nov 10, 2012
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Voice Assist, a provider of mobile speech and hands-free solutions, in mid-August filed a U.S. patent application for its Next Generation Home Phone Service, which provides, among other things, access to a voice-activated virtual assistant.

Voice Assist, best known for safe driving applications that let motorists use voice commands to make calls, send and receive email and text messages, and post to social networks from their mobile phones, has brought those same capabilities to home phones.

To use the service, consumers plug their existing phones into special Internet adapters that route calls over the Web. When the consumer dials zero, the technology automatically reroutes the call to a cloud-based, voice-activated virtual assistant. Saying "Live Assist" brings a real person on the line to assist the caller.

Once the caller logs into the application, it automatically pulls up stored information about contacts, email accounts, social networks, calendars, and more, so the voice assistant will be ready to understand and act on each subscriber's requests. It can gather and store both personal and business information, which it then links to a unique identifier, such as caller ID or IP address, for each specific caller. This allows the application to provide a level of personalization once the caller has logged into the system.

Subscribers can use voice commands to dial by name; listen to, reply to, or send email and text messages; and post to social networks, all by voice. The application converts the voice to text and delivers the message with the original voice file added as an attachment. It can also call the subscriber to notify him when he has a new message or email.

The application also incorporates conversational search, a capability that allows consumers to order pizza or groceries, make travel reservations, check the weather, or search the Web for nearly any information.

According to Michael Metcalf, CEO of Voice Assist, the conversational search capability involves "having a conversation with a virtual assistant who is intelligent and can help you boil down to the specific information you're looking for.

"You can get to the information in the context of a dialogue rather than the one-word search term you would type into a computer," he says. "The application can make logical inferences into what you are really looking for."

The application is also technology-agnostic. "Any hard-wired phone can become a data terminal," Metcalf says. "It becomes your connection to all sorts of things. Just hit zero, say what you want, and it's done for you."

"Virtual assistants are not just for mobile phones anymore," Metcalf states.

The idea, Metcalf explains, "is simply to make life more convenient."

Voice Assist plans to charge $9.95 a month for the basic service, which includes unlimited calls throughout North America, and the virtual assistant. The Live Assist feature will cost an additional $10 a month.


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