May 18, 2018

Sound recognition to help smart speakers pass toothbrush test

As smart speakers find their way into more homes and more rooms, there’s a tremendous opportunity for personal assistants to help look after the property, pets and people as well as being a source of entertainment and information.

Analysts predict that anywhere between 40m and 56m of these will be sold globally this year. This is on top of the 27m that were sold last year and they estimate that in 2021 over 130m units will be shipped. There are three broad product types within this category: low-cost, basic speakers (Echo Dot, Google Home Mini), mid-range speakers (Echo, Google Home, Sonos Play:1) and high-end speakers (Apple HomePod, Sonos Play:5, Google Home Max). Last year, two-thirds of the smart speakers sold are estimated to be the smaller, low-cost devices.

For smart speakers to reach mass market adoption, consumers need to feel that they get enough value from them to warrant the initial purchase as well as additional services and devices.

Alphabet Inc. CEO Larry Page famously coined the ‘toothbrush test’ to assess the value of technology: “Is this something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?”

Early adopters, who’ve taken advantage of the impulse purchase price points of smart speakers, have been finding out whether these devices pass the toothbrush test in their homes. Based on personal experience (where we have 1.5 smart speakers per person), and that of my friends and family, I’d say that the answer is…almost.

So as smart speakers large and small enter multiple rooms in the average consumer’s home there is an opportunity for them to become even smarter, moving beyond entertainment into offering additional, high-value, everyday services around security, safety and wellbeing. If they can hear the sounds around them that is.


While cameras are an integral part of the smart home, they are unlikely to be found in bedrooms or places within the home where people relax or are entertained. Instead, these devices are often trained on the major entry points, either inside looking out or outside looking out. They are also limited to a fixed line-of-sight. But smart speakers are finding their way into many rooms of the home, giving them the perfect opportunity to offer more comprehensive monitoring when owners are away from home, for example detecting speech (just launched), windows being broken, dogs barking or unusual sounds (audio anomalies).


As well as break-ins, another significant threat to our homes and families is fire breaking out or a carbon monoxide leak. Most homes have smoke and/or CO alarms fitted, which emit a loud alarm sound when triggered. If owners are out then there is nobody present to deal with the fire. In this case, the smart speaker could send an alert to the homeowner or a neighbour as well as instruct other connected devices to unlock doors or turn on lights.


Smart speakers can be incredibly useful in nurseries too, playing music as well as helping parents who don’t have hands free. Here, a smart speaker becomes a very sophisticated baby monitor by responding to the sound of a baby crying by automatically playing a soothing lullaby

But it isn’t just babies. Your smart speaker could listen out for dogs left home-alone, monitoring the pet’s wellbeing by alerting the owner if it is barking.

Adding the sense of hearing through sound recognition means smart speakers and the personal assistant could become even smarter with a more intelligent response to situations. And it’s that kind of feature which is going to influence consumer purchasing decisions, retailer ranging decisions and long-term usage in the day-to-day life of the home. With many looking to offer additional subscription-based services, applications powered by sound recognition can form a key part of the value proposition.

The growth of the smart home market right now is being driven by two things: smart speakers and home security. Giving smart speakers a sense of hearing can bring these growth areas together and broaden their usefulness beyond entertainment to other applications that are used more than once a day and which make consumers’ lives better. Then they’d pass the toothbrush test.


Like this? You can subscribe to our blog and receive an alert every time we publish an announcement, a comment on the industry or something more technical.

About Audio Analytic

Audio Analytic is the pioneer of AI sound recognition software. The company is on a mission to map the world of sounds, offering our sense of hearing to consumer technology. By transferring our sense of hearing to consumer products and digital personal assistants we give them the ability to react to the world around us, helping satisfy our entertainment, safety, security, wellbeing and communication needs.

Audio Analytic’s ai3™ sound recognition software enables device manufacturers and chip companies to equip products with Artificial Audio Intelligence, recognizing and automatically responding to our growing list of sound profiles.

We are using our own and third party cookies which track your use of our website to help give you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on our website.

You can check what cookies we use and how to manage them here and you read our privacy policy here.

Accept and close