Cortana is coming to run your household next year

From smart fridges to thermostats

Cortana’s tendrils are spreading everywhere – the digital assistant began life on phones, before shifting to PCs (and the Xbox), and now she is set to arrive on Internet of Things gadgets with the major update for Windows 10 due next spring.

To clarify, with the Creators Update, Cortana will grace Windows 10 IoT Core devices which have displays, so we’re talking about the likes of smart fridges and various kitchen appliances, and other smart home gadgets like thermostats.

As discussed in a session which Principal Program Manager May Ji presided over at WinHEC 2016 last week, Microsoft is introducing two very important features to ensure the voice assistant functions successfully in the sort of environment and use cases required in the home (and at work), namely ‘wake on voice from standby’ and ‘far-field voice’.

The former means exactly what it says, allowing someone to turn on the device from Windows 10’s ‘modern standby’ with a simple voice command (‘Hey Cortana’).

And far-field voice simply means that Cortana will be able to recognize commands from a distance – with a range of around four meters – even picking them out in a room with background noise.

Obviously those are vital abilities to have when it comes to power management (ensuring the device doesn’t have to be on all the time), and using the digital assistant from across a room, even if other people are around chatting away, or the radio is on, perhaps.

Evolution of Cortana

Microsoft actually talked about far-field voice last week as part of Project Evo, a partnership with Intel which is expected to make various advancements with not just Cortana, but also elements as diverse as game broadcasting and security (promising advances in biometrics with Windows Hello).

ZDNet spotted this development, and rightly pointed out that it’s worth noting Microsoft is stressing that this is about bringing Cortana to IoT devices with screens, as opposed to making some sort of Amazon Echo rival. Although that doesn’t mean this won’t happen, of course…

Cortana will initially arrive on Windows 10 IoT Core supported for the English language in the US and UK, with the rollout likely to be a month or so after the actual debut of the Creators Update on desktop PCs.

So as 2017 proceeds, we’re going to see some pretty nifty Windows IoT gadgets emerging for the smart home in one form or another.

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