The future of smart speakers could be coming in a rather interesting way — ambient sounds.

A new project called Listen Learner breaks down how a speaker could learn to listen for ambient noises rather than just a person’s voice. This allows the speaker to act more autonomously, as it can react to stimuli around them rather than needing to be told what to do by a user.

An example cited in the paper shows the speaker reacting to the microwave dinging at the end of its cycle. It then alerts the owner that the microwave went off via a smartphone notification. They also demonstrated teaching the speaker that a banging sound is someone knocking on the door, thus prompting the speaker to notify the owner that someone is at the door.

In a way, Listen Learner is all about using a modern smart speaker with low-tech devices that have no way of connecting to the internet. Instead of buying a smart doorbell, an existing Google Home or Amazon Echo can learn the sound of the doorbell and notify when someone is at the door.

The primary thing that makes Listen Learner interesting is that it requires minimal interaction from the user. The team proposes teaching the device a wide range of sounds before it even enters the hands of the user, thus limiting the amount of effort required in the end. While systems like this have been proposed in the past, most require the user to spend copious amounts of time “teaching” the system. This interesting project aims to save the user time by doing the work for them, which could make for a rather interesting future for smart speakers.

Listen Learner provides accuracy levels suitable for common activity recognition use-cases and can augment or complement existing methods, bringing the vision of context-aware interactions closer to reality.

Listen Learner

Unfortunately, Listen Learner isn’t a project that’s ready for consumers. Rather, it’s an idea — a paper and YouTube video. But the video clearly demonstrates the system in action and it looks extremely exciting. The ability to turn almost anything in a house into a connected device could be incredibly useful in all sorts of situations.

The idea of having a smart speaker know when someone knocks on the door, when the oven is done, or when the dogs bark and reacting appropriately is quite exciting. The study found that Listen Learner’s software could accurately and automatically learn acoustic events with 97% precision and 87% recall. The future of smart home speakers might just be more exciting than we ever imagined.

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