Friday, October 11, 2019

Google Maps Adds Voice Guidance For Visually Impaired - Geek

Google Maps Adds Voice Guidance For Visually Impaired - Geek


Google Maps Adds Voice Guidance For Visually Impaired - Geek

Posted: 11 Oct 2019 05:11 AM PDT

Google Maps is making it easier for blind and visually impaired users to get around on foot.

On Thursday (World Sight Day), Google updated its app with more detailed voice guidance and new verbal announcements for walking trips.

This marks the first feature in Google Maps to be built from the ground up by, and for, people with vision impairments.

"As a legally blind woman living in Tokyo, I know that getting around unfamiliar environments can be a challenge," Google business analyst Wakana Suglyama wrote in a blog post.

"Going someplace new and unfamiliar can be an intimidating experience without sight to guide you," she continued. "With this feature, I can navigate the streets of Tokyo with more comfort and confidence."

As soon as you press "Go," the app continually informs users that they're on the correct path (and re-routes them if necessary), the distance to their next turn, and the direction in which they're walking.

It even identifies large intersections, warning folks to cross with added caution.

"With detailed voice guidance in Google maps, my journey fades into the background and I can focus more on what I'll do at my final destination," Suglyama said. "This may not sound extraordinary to those with sight, but for people who are blind or have low vision, this can help us explore new and unfamiliar places."

The new technology isn't limited to the visually impaired: Google hopes it can also help folks struggling to put their phone down and have a screen-free experience.

"Similar to the announcements you might hear at crosswalks or on a bus, everyone can benefit from it," according to Suglyama. "Not everyone will need this level of assistance, but it's great to know it's available and only a tap away."

To turn on the feature, go to Google Maps settings and select "Navigation"; scroll down to enable "Detailed voice guide" (beneath the "Walking options" heading).

The function is rolling out to Android and iOS devices, available in English and Japanese, with support for additional languages and countries "on the way." 

More on Geek.com:

Amazon bolsters Alexa skill voice accuracy - Business Insider - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Oct 2019 06:32 AM PDT

Amazon is making it easier for developers to improve the quality and accuracy of their Alexa experiences with two new tools for the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), the company announced this week.

Overall Voice Assistant Accuracy
Business Insider Intelligence

The additions are designed to enable developers to overcome issues that may reduce natural language understanding (NLU) accuracy in their Alexa skills. Here's how: 

  • The new NLU Evaluation Tool prevents overtraining developers' NLU models — adding too many sample utterances — which Amazon says can hurt accuracy. It also supports regression tests and accuracy measurements so developers can evaluate their models as new features are added and gauge the impact on accuracy.
  • Utterance Conflict Detection prevents developers from building voice models with unintended conflicts, which can also reduce NLU model accuracy. It pinpoints utterances that are accidentally mapped to multiple intents, and it can be used before and after the skill has been published.

Amazon has been working extensively to boost Alexa's accuracy and catch up to its rivals, and the new additions to the ASK play into this effort. Alexa's accuracy lags Google Assistant and Siri, but Amazon has been closing the gap, according to a study from Loup Ventures.

On average, Alexa answered queries accurately 80% of the time in August 2019, up 19 percentage points from 61% in July 2018. Its lag behind Siri fell from 18 percentage points to 3, and compared with Google Assistant, Alexa's deficit dropped from 25 percentage points to 13. Amazon will likely be better able to chip away at its rivals' lead with the new developer tools, as improving Alexa's in-skill accuracy will be a boon to overall voice accuracy. There are over 100,000 Alexa skills available globally. 

And streamlining the Alexa skill development process in ways that also improve accuracy bodes well for Amazon's long-term success. Here's why: 

  • Consumers consider voice assistant comprehension paramount. Two-thirds of smart speaker owners value voice assistants' ability to understand them above all other qualities, per Voicebot.ai. That surpasses sound quality (55%), how much a voice assistant can do (51%), how fast a voice assistant responds (45%), its personality (15%), and the media entertainment included (14%). By improving one of the chief areas Alexa lags in — and which consumers most value — Amazon will be able to pose a larger threat to Google Assistant and Siri in capturing users' time.
  • Consumers aren't currently taking advantage of skills. More than half (51%) of smart speaker owners have not tried a third-party voice app, and among those who have, 48% use only one to three, according to Voicebot. Moreover, 45% of smart speaker owners who are monthly voice app users utilize just a single app. By improving accuracy, Amazon can not only boost skill engagement for skills that Alexa users are already using, but also spur monthly users to employ additional voice apps.

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Voice-activated calling via Google Nest now available with Telstra - ZDNet

Posted: 17 Sep 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Telstra has partnered with Google to enable mobile customers to make voice-activated calls on Google Nest devices -- formerly known as Google Home -- with Telstra.

As the first mobile carrier in the world to offer outbound calling on Google Nest devices, Telstra said mobile customers can synchronise mobile device contacts by linking their Telstra number to their Google account to make outbound calls from their Google Nest device – Mini, Home, Home Max, or Hub -- for the next 12 months.

For customers to use their voice to make calls, they can ask Google Assistant to call a contact name, a number, a business, or emergency services, simply by saying, for instance, "Hey Google, call mum". Customers can also use the service to end a call or choose options in their voicemail bank.

Must read: Google Nest Hub Max: The value of assistants are starting to make sense

"The ability to make calls through Google Nest devices means people can stay connected in a number of scenarios, whether they just have their hands full with the kids and pets, their phone is out of reach, or the elderly and disabled where greater accessibility to technology is a requirement," Telstra connected devices and accessories principal Steve Dance said.

While it's free to set up and calls made using Google Nest devices come at no additional cost to customers' existing mobile plan, voice-activated calling with Telstra requires a compatible Telstra Mobile service and device with credit; a powered Google Nest device connected to an active Wi-Fi network; and a Google account and Google Home Android or iOS app.

Eligible Telstra mobile customers can link up to six mobile services to their Google Nest devices, the company said, and can set up Google Voice Match, a Google service that is used to identify individual voices, to personalise their contact list.

Telstra said the service will eventually be extended to Nest Hub Max. 

The Google Nest Hub Max currently has the ability to allow video calling and messaging via Duo. A Duo account is required to access this feature, however.  

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