Google gets ready to launch voice-activated home device

Google Home, one of the company's latest developments, incorporates both voice assistance and search platforms.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
A sign outside the Google headquarters near San Jose, Calif. The tech giant is entering the field of smart home devices with the launch of Google Home this week.

The Internet of Things picked up the pace on Wednesday, as Google was expected to announce the release of Google Home, launching itself into the world of voice-activated smart home devices.

The latest project, known internally as Project Chirp, incorporates both voice assistance and search platforms, and can answer questions and carry out basic tasks. The device will be announced at Google's developers' conference in Silicon Valley on May 18, anonymous sources told The New York Times.  

"We're making everything contextually aware," Sundar Pichai, former head of the Google's Android phone software and now chief executive of Google, said at the 2014 developers' conference. "We want to know when you're at home, with your kids."

Consumers are increasingly interested in gadgets that will act like personal assistants in their home, from reading the day's headlines out loud, or adjusting the temperature in a room, to turning off the lights, as the Monitor's Max Lewontin reported in March:

The concept of connecting a variety of appliances, from coffeemakers to TVs,  to create a unified "smart home" is gradually gaining in popularity. Some 36 percent of consumers in a recent poll by the Nielsen affiliated group The Demand Institute said they were "excited" to incorporate more of the technology in their homes, while 34 percent were neutral.

Google will likely launch the device in the fall, according to a report earlier this year.

Google Home's competitor, Amazon Echo, was launched two years ago and has already sold about 3 million devices.

Google's rival has invested between $250,000 and $500,000 in TrackR, a bluetooth technology company, to improve home-assistant Echo. Alexa, as Echo's software is called, has gained abilities to call a car from Uber, order pizza from Domino's, get fitness information from Fitbit, and look up election news from NBC.

With Google Home now on their radar, thanks to the expected reveal at the I/O Conference, developers may start creating software to accompany it after its official launch. 

Consumer technology appears to be headed towards greater A.I. use to power home virtual agents. Apple's 2011 Siri for the iPhone quickly became very popular until it was overshadowed by the launch of Amazon Echo. Now, the launch of the new Google Home has the potential to overtake both.

"Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and others are all heading towards the virtual agent," Forrester Research analyst Julie A. Ask told The New York Times. "Google has seemingly let the competition catch up – level the playing field, even. It's all the more critical that they do well here, given earlier misses on instant messaging and social media."

The virtual agent technology is not completely settled yet, however, as software engineers negotiate issues around privacy and the kind of information the device offers to users and vice versa. The virtual agent works best when it collects as much information as possible about the user, but many buyers worry about the privacy costs of such convenience. 

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