The rise of Amazon Alexa has almost made voice command the de facto interface for smart devices. But a team from Singapore called Unified Inbox has offered an alternative solution.
Founded in 2010, Unified Inbox has been working on the technology to command smart devices via text. Toby Ruckert, the company’s CEO, once depicted the method as a universal translator between the languages for machines and for humans, in an interview with Forbes.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also wrote on his Facebook page that he prefers communicating to his AI home automation system by texts rather than voice, because “mostly it feels less disturbing to people around me.”
Unified Inbox’s platform already supports more than 20 top messaging apps along with SMS and Twitter. Besides giving orders by texts, users can also add more appliances by messaging the serial number to a special user account or phone number.
Right now the system can control devices like ovens and kettles. More are being tested, including locks, garage openers, window blinds, toasters and garden sprinklers.
More than half of the world’s smart appliance manufacturers, such as Bosch, have signed up for Unified Inbox, Ruckert told Reuters. The main reason for this uptake is the fear to be dominated by smart platforms launched by big names like Amazon. Ruckert said this type of platform is similar to a Trojan horse in a customer’s home, and “our customers are quite afraid of the likes of Amazon.”
Amazon has built up a smart home ecosystem – by opening up skill development kits for developers and making it easy for manufacturers to integrate Alexa into their products. There are currently over 10,000 Alexa skills, and companies like Lenovo, General Electric, LG and Huawei have already brought Alexa into their devices.
If Amazon decides to make hardware products by itself and owns a dominant system, however, there will be few market opportunities left for other players.
IBM is pairing its Watson AI supercomputer with Unified Inbox to better understand users’ text messages. The two will demonstrate the service working with a Samsung Robot Cleaner this week. In a different application, Bosch showed how a user can ask a smart security camera how many people were in a particular room via texts.
In the future, Ruckert intends to let Unified Inbox communicate with machines everywhere, and not to limit application to one single brand.