Star Performers: Watch Out, Here Comes Google

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winner in last year’s Speech Technology magazine awards for its speech engine efforts, Google has been a perennial standout in the speech technology field, and this year is no different.

Since it debuted in 2012, Google Glass, a wearable computer similar to eyeglasses, has created quite a buzz, and its introduction to the general public later this year is highly anticipated. As of now, Glass is still in beta, available to U.S. Google I/O developers for $1,500.

The hands-free wearable uses natural language and comes equipped with a mounted camera. This enables users to make calls, send messages, take pictures, record videos, conduct Google searches, and get directions. Users can simply wake up the device by saying “OK Glass” and state their name. Google Glass has already been seen in healthcare use cases, such as surgeries and doctor-patient interactions.

Perhaps overshadowing Google Glass are the company’s more recent announcements made at its Google I/O developers conference in June, including the coming Android L O/S update. Additional speech recognition–enabled products were unveiled, including the company’s Android smart watches, as well as speech-enabled Android Auto and Android TV.

At the conference, Sundar Pichai, a senior vice president at Google, said that Google products are “contextually aware, voice-enabled, seamless, and mobile first.” Pichai also stressed that the company remains laser-focused on speech technology.

“We want to bring the right experience to you at the right time and we want it to be voice-enabled,” Pichai said. “We are building the most advanced voice recognition infrastructure in the world. We want to help users interact with computing devices in an intuitive way.”

A highlight of the conference came when the company announced that new smart watches with built-in Android technology were coming down the pike, including Samsung’s Gear Live, the LG G watch, and Google’s own Moto 360 watch.

David Singleton, director of engineering for Android, demonstrated the Android-based LG G watch to developers. “It’s finally possible to make a powerful computer that’s small enough to wear on your body all day long,” Singleton said. “Your watch will provide you with intelligent answers to spoken questions. Android Wear bridges notifications from an Android phone or tablet directly to the watch and uses apps running on the phone, and also apps running directly on the watch itself.”

While Android-based smart watches such as Samsung and LG’s earlier models have been on the market for a while, the new releases position Google at the forefront of the wearables market, which is expected to soar.

According to market research firm Strategic Analytics, global smart watch sales are expected to grow in 2014 by more than 500 percent, up from 1.9 million units in 2013.

“Google is contributing to innovations in the use of speech technology by making it a familiar and always available interface to multiple digital modalities,” stated Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates, a speech market research company, via e-mail. “They are moving aggressively to make the diverse experience across modalities such as smartphones, wearables, Web browsers, and automobiles a more unified experience, with voice interaction a major component of the strategy.”

“More than anybody, [Google has] done a lot to push speech as a ubiquitous mobile interface,” says Deborah Dahl, principal at speech and language consulting firm Conversational Technologies and chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Multimodal Interaction Working Group. —Michele Masterson

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