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Voice automation gains ground in retail, transportation, other industries

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Voice automation gains ground in retail, transportation, other industries

Smart speakers and voice automation software have begun to transcend beyond connected homes and media tech as these emerging technologies are increasingly used across a range of different industries.

A number of developments in the home automation space has taken place after Amazon.com Inc. launched Echo in 2014. Appliance makers such as Sharp Corp. and LG Electronics Inc., are looking to grow their own smart appliance offerings.

Google Home, Google Inc.'s smart speaker product, and its voice aide called Google Assistant can now be connected to over 1,500 smart home devices, while Amazon, for its part, features a variety of smart home appliances and devices on its e-commerce platform that are all able to work with Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa.

As the number of available smart home appliances continues to increase, new industries are starting to recognize the opportunities that smart speakers provide.

Firstly, device makers are taking advantage of Amazon's and Google's respective moves to make their voice processing technologies available to third-party hardware manufacturers and developers.

Take, for example, Garmin Ltd. unit Garmin International Inc., which revealed that its recent dash cam offering has been integrated with Alexa to help with users' navigation.

Laptop and computer owners that run on Microsoft's Windows 10 software may also get to chat to Alexa soon, as the two tech giants sealed a partnership linking Amazon's voice assistant with Microsoft Corp.'s software assistant, Cortana. The agreement is expected to allow Microsoft users to access Cortana's features, simply by talking to Alexa.

Moreover, Alexa and Alphabet Inc. unit's Google Assistant are now "reading out" news reports from the likes of E.W. Scripps Co. and French newspaper Les Echos, while DISH Network Corp. uses Alexa's voice control feature for its Hopper DVR and its Joey devices.

Smart speakers are also anticipated to make an impact in the digital music consumption, according to Vanessa Higgins, CEO of independent label Regent Street Records.

She said that smart speakers are "likely to have a transformative effect on digital music consumption and discovery."

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According to a survey conducted by NPR and Edison Research released in June 2017, about 70% of respondents who own a smart speaker listen to more audio overall since getting the speaker, while 65% said they listen to more music, 28% consumed more news and talk shows, 20% opted for more podcasts and 18% listened to more audiobooks.

In the retail industry, players such as Walmart Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., The Home Depot Inc. and even online grocery retailer Ocado Group plc have entered into partnerships with Google and Amazon to integrate voice-activated technology into consumers' shopping experience.

Also, car makers have teamed up with companies that provide them voice capabilities in their vehicles. BMW partnered with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to allow the use of smart speakers to access vehicle information, while Mercedes-Benz allows owners of its 2016 and 2017 vehicles to connect with their Amazon and Google smart speakers.

As the userbase of smart speakers and automation grows, new players eye their own share of the industry: Apple Inc. is set to launch its own home assistant called HomePod, while others, such as Facebook Inc., Deutsche Telekom AG, Samsung Group unit Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Alibaba and Microsoft, are reportedly working on smart speakers as well.