If These Walls Could Speak: IBM, Harman Powering Cognitive Rooms

In a meeting in which a question is asked and no one knows the answer, just ask the room itself, because it will dig up the answer for everybody within a few seconds.

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The day is now here when people can gather inside a conference room for a meeting and not have to worry when someone asks a question to which no one knows the answer.

All someone will have to do is ask the room itself, because it will dig up the answer for everybody within a few seconds. The adage "if these walls could speak," is coming true in the most literal sense.

This is exactly what IBM Watson and several of its partners have done with its new Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms, starting with the first use case at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia that was announced April 19. Patients there now interact with in-room speakers that are connected to the IBM Watson IoT Platform and can easily control their in-room subsystems (windows, lights, temperature settings) without having to physically perform any manual tasks or try to figure out new systems.

For conference rooms, IBM's cognitive intelligence apps are embedded into Harman microphone soundbars and alarm clocks with other form factors being developed, so that users can interact by using natural language. Consumers can simply ask questions or issue commands with their voice when in a room. These requests are then sent to the Watson cloud and Watson IoT services, which work with Harman's technology to allow people to obtain information or other kinds of help in getting tasks done.

Order Up a Videoconference, and the Room Does It

For example, now when an employee enters a conference room, he or she can start a video conference, launch a presentation and do other tasks using voice only. In the future, these tasks will be executed automatically based on what the system has learned about the employee based on previous meetings. Thus, the system gets smarter about the person and his or her preferences over time.

Other key components in this mix include Harman AKG microphones, JBL speakers and AMX AV control and switching systems, IBM said.

In addition to the current in-market solution, Harman is a participant in IBM's cognitive "collaboratory" based in its $200 million Watson IoT global headquarters in Munich. In this facility, Harman demonstrates the capabilities of its in-room cognitive concierge in a conference-room setting. At the same time, the Harman team is also working with IBM designers, researchers and others to put IoT into the hands of enterprise customers.

These voice-enabled cognitive rooms also can function as an in-room concierge at a hotel that can answer general questions or site-specific questions developed by the facility and featuring custom answers created by staff.

For example, a hotel guest could ask "What time is checkout? "or "Where is the gym?", while a hospital patient could ask "What are the hospital's visiting hours?" or "Can you tell me more about my doctor?" Using Harman's expertise in API integration, users can even employ Watson for service requests, including amenity replenishments, restaurant reservations, late checkout, room service and shuttle services.

Cognitive Rooms Understand Several Languages

Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms also feature enterprise-grade software tools that can help in-house technical and guest service staff members increase operational efficiency. For example, housekeeping staff can simply say, "Send up an engineer to fix the shower" in their native language.

Watson's multilingual capabilities enable organizations to accommodate a wide variety of users from different countries with an ever-growing list of supported languages, IBM said.

"We're solving a very distinct problem in hotel, hospital and conference rooms, where people experience unfamiliar environments yet need to perform very simple tasks, such as changing room temperature, adjusting the lighting, opening the blinds, initiating conference calls or launching a presentation," said Kevin Morrison, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Solutions for Harman Professional Solutions.

"Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms by Harman make for a natural and intuitive experience, especially for weary travelers or patients with special needs."

Like other solutions on the market, the system is activated by a "wake word." However, unlike other devices, the wake word for Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms by Harman is fully customizable. This allows businesses an additional opportunity to brand their experience. In addition to JBL speakers, the system includes AMX NX-1200 Integrated Controller, the AMX Massio MCP-106 6-Button ControlPad and the AMX Metreau Ethernet Keypad.

Availability Coming Soon

Voice-Enabled Cognitive Rooms by IBM Watson and Harman for enterprise applications will be available in mid-2017. Go here for more information.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...