Harman and IBM Watson Introduce Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms

Harman Professional Solutions and IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) unveiled Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms. Using IBM's Watson artificial intelligence (AI) technology and Harman AKG microphones, JBL speakers, and AMX AV control and switching systems, the two companies are bringing highly connected experiences to medical facilities, corporate offices, hotels, cruise ships, and other hospitality environments.

As part of the initiative underway at IBM's Watson IoT Global headquarters in Munich, Germany, clients, partners, and IBM teams are conducting productive meetings using in-room, voice-enabled cognitive solutions created with Harman Professional Services in what are being called "collaboratories." The two companies expect Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms for enterprise applications to be available in mid-2017.

IBM's cognitive technologies are embedded into Harman soundbars and alarm clocks with which users can interact using natural language. They can ask questions or issue voice commands when in a room. These requests are then sent to the Watson cloud and Watson IoT services to allow people to control in-room subsystems. When an employee enters a conference room, for example, he can start a video conference, launch a presentation, and more using voice. In the future, these tasks will be executed automatically based on what the system has learned about the employee during previous meetings. The system gets smarter about the person and his preferences over time. The system is activated by a customizable wake-up word.

These voice-enabled cognitive rooms also function as in-room concierges that can answer general or site-specific questions. Users can even employ Watson for service requests, including amenity replenishments, restaurant reservations, late checkout, room service, shuttle service, and more.

Leveraging key Watson APIs, such as Natural Language Understanding and Speech to Text, these rooms also provide users with limited mobility and vision impairment a closer level of interaction with their environments. Now with Watson, guests can speak naturally to the system without rigid syntax requirements, using simple commands like "would you turn off the lights?"

Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms also feature enterprise-grade software that can help in-house technical and guest service staff members increase operational efficiency. For example, housekeeping staff can simply say, "Send up an engineer to fix the shower" in their native language. Watson's multilingual capabilities enable organizations to accommodate a wide variety of users from different countries with an ever-growing list of supported languages.

"We're solving a very distinct problem in hotel, hospital, and conference rooms, where people experience unfamiliar environments yet need to perform very simple tasks, such as changing room temperature, adjusting the lighting, opening the blinds, initiating conference calls, or launching a presentation," said Kevin Morrison, senior vice president of enterprise solutions at Harman Professional Solutions, in a statement. "Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms by Harman make for a natural and intuitive experience, especially for weary travelers or patients with special needs."

"The enterprise and entertainment market possibilities are massive, as IBM and Harman seek to connect people more intimately with their environments through cognition and natural language processing," said Harriet Green, general manager of Watson Internet of Things, customer engagement, and education at IBM, in a statement. "The result of this collaboration is simple: We are leveraging Watson and AI to bring connected environments to a multitude of locations, from hotels to hospitals and offices, where they are transforming every-day experiences. We look forward to continuing our work with Harman by developing new IoT-powered innovations."

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in the Philadelphia area plans to deploy this solution in patient rooms, allowing patients to interact with in-room speakers connected to the IBM Watson IoT Platform to operate lights and window blinds, ask questions about hospital facilities, or request background information on their physicians, all via natural language.

"Being in a hospital can often be a hectic, anxiety-ridden, or even intimidating experience for patients and their loved ones. If we can minimize that discomfort, even a little, we are doing a lot to increase the well-being and care of our patients," said Neil Gomes, vice president for technology innovation and consumer experience at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, in a statement.

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