Facebook is reportedly working on its own speech recognition technology called 'Aloha'. More information about Facebook’s ongoing efforts to develop a smart speaker with a display and a dedicated speech recognition tool has been outed by TechCrunch via frequent tipster and mobile researcher Jane Manchun Wong. Digging into the code of the Facebook and Messenger Android apps, Manchun found references to ‘Aloha’, a speech recognition tool which will help users dictate messages in Messenger as well as operate other Facebook services. Facebook is aiming this tool for its apps as well as external hardware, most likely, the rumoured Portal smart speaker that the company is said to be developing.
Dubbed ‘Aloha Voice Testing’ the feature is said to facilitate speech-to-text-to-speech conversion, allowing Messenger users more ways to interact with each other on the platform. The code found by Manchun shows a prototype of Aloha’s user interface in use on Messenger. A blue volume indicator can be seen in the form of a bar as words are dictated to Aloha and typed out in Messenger. This transcription tool can ease Messenger usage for older people and those with disabilities.
Aloha also contained a “Your mobile device is now connected Portal” reference for Facebook’s upcoming smart speaker with a display, further confirming the name of the device which is aimed at enabling video chats on Facebook and its other services. It was previously reported that Facebook Portal will be a display device for video chatting, accompanied by other social media features. Facebook’s Portal will come equipped with voice controls allowing users to interact with the device using voice commands.
With this, Facebook will be a late entry into the voice assistant and smart speaker market. It will also need to compete with existing offerings from Amazon, Google, Apple and Samsung, all of which now have a smart speaker with a dedicated voice assistant.
Facebook did not respond to the revelations about Aloha or Portal, but a spokesperson told TechCrunch that the “team will be in touch in a few weeks about hardware news coming from the AR/VR org”. Facebook is hosting its Oculus Connect 5 conference on September 25.