Beginners Guide to Voice Services In the Age of Digital Assistants

Leveraging your voice to initiate a command, start a service or even change the channel has been around for years. I remember in my grade school days hearing the voice of my parents or grandparents to fetch them something from the other room, change the channel on the television or even just to be quiet. These days, kids have a lot of distractions, from tablets to noise canceling headphones, rendering those ‘old school’ personal assistants no longer available.

All jokes aside, digital assistants and voice driven interactions are becoming commonplace as voice services increasingly improve. BlueFletch has been fortunate enough to work with clients across an array of industry verticals to explore how voice services will impact their organizations. We’ve helped our clients leverage voice services for more impactful engagement with their customers, allowing them to engage customers in new ways and capturing metadata that would be lost during a normal human interaction. Other clients are increasing the efficiency of their workforce by adding voice services in order to allow a worker to be hands free, keeping attention on critical actions and creating a safer work environment.

A (Recent) History of Voice Services

In recent years, we are yelling less at kids and more at Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Google and Siri. Every major tech company is working on its own digital assistant that is powered by a set of voice services.

      • Apple released Siri in 2011 and now Siri is apart of most of Apple’s operating systems (i.e. iOS, watchOS, macOS and tvOS)
      • Amazon Alexa was made popular by the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot. Fun fact, the name Alexa was chosen due to the fact that it has a hard consonant with the X and therefore could be recognized with higher precision.
      • Microsoft lifted its character from the Halo video game franchise to launch their intelligent personal assistant Cortana.
      • Google Assistant was unveiled just last year. Different from Google Now, the Google Assistant can engage in two-way conversations.

This year has been the year of the voice for BlueFletch. We have been a part of many workshops and brainstorming sessions where voice is the centerpiece of the User’s experience. For those new to the space, I wanted to talk about the three technologies that are key to bringing these voice experiences to life.

Three Parts of Voice Interaction, An Explanation

voice recognition

Voice/Speech Processing

The first part of recognition is to efficiently and cleanly capture one’s voice. Overcoming barriers like speaking style, background noise and tones. Advancements in sound processing, thanks to more powerful devices, has allowed for tremendous improvements in sound processing. Most modern devices today have at least two microphones which allows for real time signal processing and noise canceling.

It is important to first capture a clean audio sample so that it can be processed with a higher degree of accuracy. Also, with the advancement of network speed voice processing can happen in real time. Meaning that as you record, you are sending your voice data directly to the server, which translates into faster interactions with systems.

speech recognitionVoice/Speech Recognition

Speech recognition has been around for quite some time. When we speak our voices produce sound waves. These sound waves are made up from the tones and sounds that are a part of the language we are speaking. The inflections in our voices, e.g. the way you use your bottom lip and tongue to pronounce the word ‘flip’ have patterns that are used to understand what you are saying.

Deep learning has finally made speech recognition accurate enough to be useful in broad everyday scenarios. Combining these speech patterns with patterns in dialect and grammar rules feed algorithms that continue to learn and improve the accuracy of transcriptions. In short, our voices or speech are converted into text/words.  

natural language processing

Natural Language Services

Natural Language Processing or NLP is a way for computers to analyze, understand, and derive meaning from human language in a smart and useful way. The words that are captured as part of the transcription service need to be understood by the application.  To do that, the words are broken down into two parts; intents and entities.

        • Intents are mean to define the purpose of the phase.
        • Entities provide context. If intents are the ‘what’ of the phrase the entities are the ‘who’ and some times ‘where’.

A simple command such as, “Tell me about today’s weather” is separated into intents and entities. The intent is weather. The entities are today and current location. With this information the application understands to provide today’s weather information at a specific location.

This seems easy but there are a lot of power algorithms that are able to quickly process this information. These algorithms and the data that is available are the differentiators between the available platforms.  When you combine the processing/capture, recognition and natural language of one’s voice things can start to happen.

Hopefully without being too technical I was able to explain what is happening behind the scenes when you are yelling at your favorite voice assistant.

Always On Home Security

google fiber home security

With the impending arrival of Google Fiber in my neighborhood, I can’t contain how happy I am to finally have an alternative to Xfinity. I am not sure why I am forced to have a landline when I do not even own a phone, but that is a separate blog within itself. One service that Xfinity offers is their Xfinity Home service for security and remote home management features. Since a comparable service is not available with Google I see this as an opportunity to put together a solution leveraging a few technologies that I have been wanting to dive into.

  • Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Digital Fingerprinting / Identification

As most of you are aware by now, if I can tinker around and create something myself, I am going to try. While working on a couple of retail based POC’s for client projects at BlueFletch I got the idea for creating a home security system. The source of my inspiration were these two proof of concepts:

  1. Tracking and identifying customers in a retail location from the devices and/or applications they would have.
  2. A device that could manage other smaller beacons in a retail location.

My ‘aha’ moment came when I realized I could use these same techniques, combined with machine learning, to detect when devices (and, therefore, people) are in and around my home. And if a creeper goes low tech and leaves their devices at home, I’ve got a plan for that scenario as well! With listening and video models I can track and record any unwanted presence.

How This Works

Step 1: By strategically placing devices and IP cameras around my home and property I can monitor and record activity. The information that I gather will be processed and stored in the cloud. Since I am a glutton for punishment and recently spent a lot of time with Microsoft products, I will be leveraging Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.

Initially the devices will listen for signals being broadcast by other devices. This continuous stream of information will flow to and be stored in the cloud for me to manually process and determine if there are any patterns.

Step 2: Once I have confidence in the data that I am receiving I will build my first model to process the stream of data.

My goal is to train my model with a simple set of binary (yes/no) questions. When a new ‘thing’ is detected the system will ask me via text messaging if this thing is known or unknown. From there I can start to dig deeper and categorize ‘things’ I detect.

Step 3: IP cameras will always be recording and can take requests for timestamped images or video. Only data from a requested period of time will be stored. E.g. When a thing is detected, send along the visuals for that moment in time. This will provide me additional context so that hopefully I can visually see what has been detected digitally. In later versions I could even leverage cognitive services to detect people or things in the visuals that are captured.

The goal is simple. Can I detect if someone is at my home that probably should not be and if so then let me know so that I can do something about it. Smart, simple, affordable home security.

BlueFletch featured on TAG Radio’s Tech Talk


BlueFletch Managing Partner, Richard Makerson, is featured on TAG Radio’s Tech Talk.

Today, enterprise mobility is a strategic component of every business. Frank Baia and Richard Makerson discuss how BlueFletch consistently delivers innovative next gen mobile solutions that improve efficiency and provide productivity improvements and competitive advantage for our clients. Learn how BlueFletch leverages a decade of experience and innate creativity to design custom mobile solutions specifically tailored to our clients individual needs.

A love of learning, a determination to constantly evolve, and the ability to find comfort in the unknown make Richard and the team at BlueFletch leaders in enterprise mobility.


Listen here

First Month with the Apple Watch

Following up on my ‘What Time is It!?!’ blog post, I am finally ready to write about my Apple Watch. I’ve had it for about a month – long enough to share my early thoughts.

RMwatchI purchased the 42mm Stainless Steel case with the Black Sport Band, which will set you back $599.00. I really wanted the black stainless steel version but it was only available with the Steel Link Bracelet, which added another $500 to the already high price. The only difference in the Sport version and the Watch is that the Watch has a different metal for the case and the glass is sapphire instead of glass.

The setup process is very easy and Apple-like. Out of the box you will receive notifications, phone calls and, if you elect to install 3rd party applications, you will get notifications from them as well.



Notifications are a major reason why someone would want the Apple Watch in the first place. Notifications appear much like they do on an iPhone with the ability to be managed individually.

fitnessOne of the things that I loved about my Fitbit was it’s ability to accurately track my Fitness. The Apple Watch does a great job of tracking different fitness activities while also capturing heart rate too. Personally, I really like getting credit and awards for meeting my fitness goals. Knowing that at some point I can show off how constant I am adds fuel to my motivation. However, one thing that is starting to get old is having my watch tell me that I have been sitting too long and need to stand up for a few minutes. I guess I am not ready for machines/computers to start telling what to do just yet.

heartCommunication also plays a significant role in the user experience of the Apple Watch. Receiving my notifications for text and phone calls when I am away from my phone means that I can properly screen my calls without having to sprint across the room. But the fact that if someone important is trying to reach me I can speak Dick Tracy-style on a phone call or have Siri dictate a message for me is pretty handy.

One thing Apple wanted to do was add another level of simple but useful communication (probably as a differentiator). I can tap my watch and that will send a tap to someone else’s watch, send animated emojis, send my own heartbeat and even send simple drawings. I did not think I would like the new communication types, but I find that my wife and I use them quite a bit.

One of the less talked about features is that the Apple Watch has 2gigs of storage for music and can be paired to a BlueTooth headset. Keeping with the spirit of an iPod, it is ideal for working out, walking or jogging.


  • Stylish
  • Precise (Touch Interface and Haptic Feedback)
  • Easy Integration


  • Expensive. I bought the stainless steel 42mm version and could have easily bought a new iPad Air 2.
  • Battery life is not ideal. One solid day of normal use

Screenshot 2015-05-27 09.05.04

My Verdict:

I like it and I am pleasantly surprised. I was honestly prepared to have wasted my money on a first version Apple product. I know in true Apple fashion there will be a slightly better one next year and I will convince myself that being first was cooler than having the latest version. However, I am already over one negative in the fact that I have already purchased the device and if a 3rd party band can extend the life of the battery then I would not see any negative for purchase.

2016 Presidential Race to Mobile Technology

The 2016 presidential campaign is well under way now that Hillary Clinton and Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio have all announced their candidacy. Even though there’s 500+ days until the election, news coverage is already a bit ridiculous (cue Hillary Clinton at Chipotle news cycle).

We are still pretty early in the election cycle so exact details on each of the candidates’ platforms are still minimal – especially since it’s  expected that about 20 more candidates will jump into the race. This includes your Donald Trumps and Waka Flocka Flames. Jokes aside, I am a co-founder in a mobile consulting firm, so I’m naturally curious to see which candidates are going to leverage mobile technology in their run for our highest office.

It seems like each election brings  another innovation or piece of technology that candidates can use to reach the American people. We’ve gone from radio, to television, to internet and most recently social media. These have been platforms that candidates have leveraged to set themselves apart. Now that Grandma is on Instagram, being clever on social media or having a “social media” strategy is par for the course.

Considering that  presidential campaigns raise (and spend) more than a billion dollars in less than two years, they seem more like Silicon Valley start-ups. Given the amount of resources and visibility that candidates have, I wonder if there is more in mobile that campaigns could be doing to gain that slim advantage.

Let’s first take inventory of what the current candidates are up to:

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