The SPEAKER project seeks to develop a leading German-made voice assistant platform for business-to-business (B2B) applications. This platform should be open, modular and scalable and provide technologies, services and data via service interfaces. The SPEAKER platform will be embedded in a comprehensive ecosystem made up of big industry, SMEs, start-ups and research partners who secure high innovation capabilities. The Fraunhofer Institutes for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS and for Integrated Circuits IIS, which already possess the relevant technologies and experience in the field of voice assistant technologies, platforms (e.g. AI4EU – European AI on-demand platform) and global marketing strategies for voice and audio technologies (e.g. MP3), will ensure the development of the platform and the ecosystem.
The two Fraunhofer Institutes IIS and IAIS have conducted workshops with numerous companies to establish requirements, determine obstacles and recommend actions that will serve as a basis for platform design and development. Key arguments for a German-made voice assistant platform include data protection, security, privacy and trust. The lack of these has become evident particularly from the recently reported incidents of non-GDPR-compliant speech analysis by Google, Alexa and Siri. This is all the more applicable in the B2B environment, where internal company data needs to be protected. The SPEAKER platform therefore addresses the issues of data and technology sovereignty in this important emerging field of human-machine communication. Requirements were also identified with respect to domain-specific customizability, flexibility in the choice and use of modules, open interfaces to databases and applications, multilinguality, paralinguistics (e.g. recognizing emotions in voices) and participation and development of a user community. In parallel with the survey of requirements, current market research predicting strong growth in the voice assistant market was evaluated. On average, a 25 percent annual increase in devices with voice assistant functions is expected in the next four years.
The SPEAKER platform’s aim is to provide open, transparent and secure voice assistant applications. To achieve this, leading technologies for audio preprocessing, speech recognition, natural-language understanding (NLU), question answering (QA), dialogue management and speech synthesis by means of artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning must be made available for simple, uncomplicated use. These key modules will be used to develop industrial voice assistant applications that, in turn, can be made available to other market players via the platform in the form of ready-made skills.
Compared with existing voice assistant environments (Alexa, Google Assistant), the following key characteristics are guaranteed and highlighted: modularity, data protection and privacy, openness with respect to technologies, connectivity and dissemination through an open ecosystem, and innovation capability. In addition, data diversity for B2B applications will be made possible by providing a data platform and integrating data and application partners. The infrastructure of the SPEAKER platform will enable data exchange (community approach), with international networks (MetaNet, European Language Grid) providing access to numerous language corpora. The SPEAKER platform will use industrial scaling mechanisms (e.g. Docker, Kubernetes, Redis). To this end, SPEAKER is working with the German company iNNOVO Cloud. This cooperation enables us to guarantee not only scalability, but also data protection based on GDPR principles. After the platform is transferred to the operating company, the public launch of the platform will help it become established quickly, setting up SPEAKER for a sustainable future. SPEAKER will be offered at a similar cost to established platforms and will focus primarily on B2B applications.