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Japan-Update

NTT Docomo readies low-cost voice control for AI speakers

Slashing development costs 99% helps adapt tech to variety of services

TOKYO -- NTT Docomo looks to release software that could propel the spread of voice prompts to control home electronics by slashing the traditional development costs tied to business adaption by as much as 99%.

The software, planned for release as early as next year, would be used via smart speakers supported by artificial intelligence, as well as other devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. The technology would enable users to access various services by simply talking to the devices.

The software boasts minimal development costs for companies eager to offer voice-prompt services. For existing systems like IBM's Watson, software typically needs to be reformulated based on the nature of the services. The associated cost of 10 million yen to 30 million yen ($88,780 to $266,340) annually has hampered the widespread use of such software.

Docomo curbs this cost by minimizing the development work for such tweaks and providing customers with the tools needed for this development for free.

The mobile communications company says it has received inquiries from dozens of businesses. Financial institutions are considering such services as letting elderly people trade stocks via voice prompts, for instance.

Docomo, which aims to have at least 100 companies using its new software by 2020, will offer the software on its "dmarket" online marketplace on a trial basis in the spring. Docomo will use the test launch to identify areas for improvement. The company plans to sell a dedicated microphone for audio input.

U.S. tech companies Amazon.com and Google are among those gearing up to release AI-supported smart speakers in Japan, which are viewed as the next product to dominate the market after smartphones. Voice features will be crucial in winning the competition.

The Nippon Telegraph & Telephone group has researched voice recognition for a long time, yielding developments such as the i-concier mobile personal-assistant service. By offering new software to a broad range of companies, the group hopes its services will take root widely. 

(Nikkei)

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