Exit ‘Remote’, Enter ‘Vemote’

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Photo - Thinkgeek.com

The day is nearing where you could simply say “Record tonight’s Friends episode” to your TV remote and get it taped.

Apparently, Steve Jobs just before his death was working on a solution to eliminate the collection of remote controls that litters a typical living room. Many tech experts believe that Apple TV set is likely to have voice enabled controls. Siri, the voice recognition programme that was launched with Apple’s latest iPhone 4S became an instant hit by answering questions like “When is the next flight from Dubai to London”.

Siri-like voice recognition could now be headed for the living room with Apple’s TV, which is rumoured to be released in 2013.


Although many of the latest TVs do connect to the Internet, the controls are too complicated for ordinary users. Many companies have identified the need and is working on providing solutions to tap into the lucrative market.

Voice activated controls are not exactly new. Microsoft’s Kinect Xbox gaming console has got sensitive microphones. After switching on the system by saying??Xbox,? subscribers to Microsoft?s $60-a-year Xbox LIVE service can search for shows, movies, and games by speaking to Microsoft?s Bing search engine.

Other companies like Comcast, Samsung Electronics, LG, and Sharp are also working on voice-enabled features for TV sets, set-top boxes, and related products.

Mike Thompson, senior vice-president at Nuance Communications the world?s largest supplier of voice recognition, said ?a wave? of device makers will ship products that understand voice commands from next year.


Companies such as Comcast, Samsung and Sharp are developing voice enabled apps which can be used on consumers’ smartphones or tablets, to control their TV.

Others are looking to revamp the design of the remote and working on models that look more like iPhones. Some of the prototypes are designed around a single prominent button that activates a microphone.

However, according to design expert Nielsen, the best approach would be to have no remote at all. Nuance is researching ways to embed microphones around the living room, like so many home-theater speakers?the better to discern words, Thompson said. And TV makers are looking into building mics right into TVs.

Nuance?s Thompson estimates that 5 percent of TVs could have built-in voice control by Christmas 2012.

Dave Grannan, chief executive officer of voice software maker Vlingo, expects many technologies to be integrated eventually. ?The combination of voice, gesture, and eye tracking is the future,? says Grannan.


Technology analysts insist cost will be a challenge. Normal TV remote uses infrared sensors but these new voice-controlled devices would need a microphone and Wi-Fi antenna. Industry politics is another hurdle, as some sort of agreement has to be there between the equipment makers so that only one device will have full control at a time.

The other major hurdle is to be able to distinguish voice commands from casual chitchat, screaming kids, and the sounds coming from the TV itself. Perhaps, we will see an improvement to voice-assistant programs like Siri which would recognise and link or pair with a single (or multiple) voice identification.

Making the software smarter is another challenge. Many iPhone 4S users are tired of Siri’s standard reply of “I don’t understand”. Companies like SRI International, which originally created the Siri software, is working hard to improve on the software and allow far more advanced computer-human dialogue, including picking up on verbal cues.

SRI International’s Vice-President Norman Winarsky said: ?Siri is the beginning of the story, or near the beginning of the story. There?s much more to come.?

Sources: Bloomberg, Apple, Techwench


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