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A smart assistant in the dash will make your next Mercedes a self-parking office

Mercedes-Benz may be – like most automakers – developing self-driving cars, but until you can set a destination and bury your head in your phone, the German company is looking to In Car Office to fill the productivity gap. Announced at IFA 2023 today, the new feature is set to launch in Mercedes cars in the first half of 2023, and more intelligently deliver interaction between the infotainment system and the cloud.

Initially, that’ll mean support for Microsoft Exchange. The car will be able to pull in your calendar, and automatically set navigation points according to where your schedule takes you.

Meanwhile, by looking at your to-do list, the Mercedes will make suggestions about calls you could make while you’re on the road.

Daimler AG is already testing further services in the wild, including WeChat in China, according to Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the company’s board of management, and plans to add more options across platforms and apps like Skype over time.

“The more time you work on the road,” Dr. Zetsche argues, “the less time you will work in the office.”

That might be over-ambitious; after all, it’s likely that people will simply find that their workdays have extended to encompass the time they spend on the road as well as at their desk. Still, Mercedes-Benz has an idea for that, too, called Motion Seating.

Building on the existing highly-adjustable seats offered in several of the automaker’s models today – which include features like seat bolsters that automatically inflate to give extra comfort during cornering – Motion Seating will move the chair’s cushions over time, to prevent you from sitting in the same position for the entire journey.

That process will eventually be shaped by your own body’s condition. “By using data from its own sensors and wearable devices,” Dr. Zetsche suggests, “the car will know about your body and mind as soon as you enter, and it will continue over time.”

That data is combined in the cloud, and Mercedes will surface the results in both the infotainment system and the company’s app. Initially, to will point to general areas and streets with a high likelihood of parking, but eventually it will be able to direct you to a specific available spot.

NOW READ: Inside F 015, Mercedes’ self-driving car

Once autonomous systems become more mass-market, Dr. Zetsche says, you should be able to start that whole process from your phone screen, dispatching the car to the space and then summoning it again later, much as Tesla’s EVs can do, albeit only with your garage.

That’s a little way down the line, mind. Before that, In Car Office will eventually be offered as an option across all Mercedes-Benz models. It’s unclear which cars will get Motion Seating at this time, though it’s likely to begin on high-end models like the S-Class and Mercedes-Maybach, which already have air-cushion seating.

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How To Control Your Xbox One With A Smart Assistant

The Xbox One might be one of the strongest gaming consoles on the market (especially if you have the Xbox One X), but for many people it’s also a way to consume media.

Through Xbox, you can watch Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll to your heart’s content. You can stream music and watch YouTube. All it takes is downloading the apps to your machine and navigating to them with your controller.

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Now you have another option – smart assistants. Through Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Cortana, you can turn your Xbox on and off, start apps, control the volume, and much more. Some of these services are still in beta, which means all the bugs haven’t been worked out, but early results are promising. 

Here’s how you can connect your Xbox One to your smart assistant and try them out for yourself.

How To Connect & Control Xbox One With Alexa

In our tests, we found the Amazon Echo to be one of the easiest devices to connect with the Xbox One.

To control your Xbox One, you’ll start by saying Alexa, tell Xbox to… and then follow your command. You can also say ask Xbox. Alexa gives you the ability to start and stop video, turn the volume up and down, launch apps and games, and much more. If you aren’t sure what else you can do, you can even ask Alexa herself with Alexa, ask Xbox what I can say.

When you set up the device, its default name will be Xbox, but you can change that name to something like Living Room Xbox or Bedroom Xbox if you want more specificity. This is even more important if you have more than one Xbox One that you want to use Alexa with.

The coolest part (in our opinion anyway) is that if you recently used your Xbox and you don’t have any other devices paired with Alexa, you can drop the word “Xbox” from the phrase and just give the command. For example, Alexa, play or Alexa, launch Hulu.

How To Connect & Control Xbox One With Google Home

The integration between Google Assistant/Home and Xbox One is still new. In fact, the public beta really only started at the end of September. There are still a few bugs to work out, so you might run into trouble setting up this functionality, but it does work. 

In our experience, Google Home gave a warning that it could not pair with the Xbox One, but the console appeared in the linked devices list and could be controlled via Google Assistant.

The beta test for this functionality is only available in English, but Microsoft plans to broaden language support when the full version releases later in the year.

Google Assistant can do to the Xbox everything Alexa can do, and the commands are quite similar. Just say, Hey Google, pause on Xbox or Hey Google, take a screenshot on Xbox.

How To Connect & Control Xbox One With Cortana How To Enable Cortana On The Console

Cortana is only available in some regions and more features are supported in the United States than in other countries. The full functionality may expand to other countries, but this has not yet been confirmed.

How To Use Cortana Through a Mobile Device

Why Your Next Pc Will Be A Tablet

Unlike earlier, arguably premature efforts to transform tablet computing into a mass-market reality, today’s models are here to stay. The new wave of slates is rolling in fast and furious, offering a tsunami of diverse options for every user.

Break From the Past

The concept of a tablet PC isn’t new, but its definition has radically changed. What we used to call a tablet was just a laptop with a screen that swiveled around and folded back, yielding a bulky machine that was uncomfortable to carry as a slate and awkward to use as a laptop. That unsatisfactory hybrid was simply where the state of technology took us in previous efforts to create “tablet” or “slate” computers.

Today’s tablet is exactly what the name implies: a thin slab, dominated by its screen. These slender systems generally max out at 1.5 pounds, and few of them take up more space in your bag than an old-fashioned composition book would. The software for tablets has changed, as well. Instead of struggling to run a full-fledged version of Windows, which requires a significant amount of processing power and isn’t optimized for use with a touchscreen, most new tablet models released nowadays run a relatively lightweight, touchscreen-focused mobile operating system such as Apple iOS or Google Android.

In the coming year, we are bound to see an astounding array of new tablets, including offerings from every major computer and phone maker, in many different sizes.

Form: A Clean Slate

As yet, few rules constrain this burgeoning category, so you should expect to encounter a multitude of assorted designs, ranging from tiny slates that are barely distinguishable from iPods to devices that rival a netbook in size and power.

The most popular slate so far is the Apple iPad. The iPad measures 9.5 inches tall by 7.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and carries a 9.7-inch screen. Because the iPad is about the size of a typical spiral-bound paper notebook, it looks and feels familiar to most users on an unconscious level.

But a number of new devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, are challenging the notion that so large a tablet is ideal for mobile use. The 7-inch screens that these machines carry make them more portable than the iPad, and major wireless carriers are lining up to offer them with 3G service.

Meanwhile, at the larger end of the spectrum, a company called Kno is producing a line of Linux-based slates aimed at the textbook market. Inspired by bulky college texts, the Kno tablets measure 14 inches diagonally; a planned future release promises a foldable double-slate format that will enable students to view two full-size pages at once.

If you want a tablet with a roomy screen but 14 inches is too big for your taste, you can look forward to another contender from an established laptop manufacturer: Asus has announced that it has plans to begin producing a Windows 7-based slate equipped with a 12-inch screen.

Simultaneously, e-book readers such as the Barnes and Noble Nookcolor are seeking to compete with the tablet category. The Nookcolor runs Android 2.1 but is optimized for reading and for apps that B&N chooses to offer (it lacks Google’s Android Market); nonetheless, with its 7-inch color display and support for apps, it blurs the definition of a tablet.

It’s too early to tell whether users and the industry will ultimately favor a particular size and format for tablets, though the diversity of early slate offerings suggests that if a standard does eventually emerge, it won’t happen for quite some time.

Google Assistant Control Could Make Roku A Must

Google Assistant control could make Roku a must-have streamer

Roku’s video streamers are about to get a whole lot smarter, with Roku OS 9 previewed along with Google Assistant integration and new support for streaming music services. The big update isn’t quite ready for release – instead, Roku is pushing out Roku OS 8.2 for Roku TVs, complete with support for the recently-announced Roku TV Wireless Speakers, among other things – but it already sounds like it’s worth waiting for.

With Roku OS 9, there’ll be a boosted voice search feature that allows viewers to focus solely on free content. You’ll be able to ask “Show me free sitcoms” or “free dramas,” for example, and see all of the content available across the Roku platform that you don’t have to pay for. Automatic Volume Leveling will be offered on select Roku streaming players, along with select Roku TVs, and there’ll be Spotify integration.

Even before that, there’ll be better voice support courtesy of the Google Assistant. You’ll be able to search for content and launch channels, as well as pause playback; Roku TV owners will be able to use the Assistant to turn their TVs on and off, control the volume and mute it, and switch inputs. If there’s an OTA antenna connected, they’ll also be able to instruct the Assistant to change the channel.

Prior to Roku OS 9, Roku OS 8.2 will arrive, though just for Roku TVs. The headline feature is support for Roku’s new TV Wireless Speakers, which promise to make setting up a better home entertainment audio system more straightforward. There’ll also be Automatic Volume Leveling, which will massage the volume settings so that, as commercials interrupt shows, or as you switch between streaming channels, there shouldn’t be jarring changes in volume.

Night mode, meanwhile, will lower the volume for louder scenes and boost it for quiet ones; that way, you can have an overall lower volume level, but still not miss any detail. A Speech Clarity feature will boost just speech in playback. All the new volume mode settings will be accessible by pressing the star button during playback, though you’ll need to have the TV Wireless Speakers connected at the time.

Roku OS 8.2 will also add Spotify support, with control either via the Roku remote directly, or remotely managing streaming using Spotify Connect from a phone or laptop. Finally, there’s iHeartRadio, Pandora, and TuneIn voice support, all of which will integrate with the Roku voice remote or – if you don’t have that – the Roku app.

Finally, Pandora Premium is now available, via the Pandora channel in the Roku Channel Store. Google Assistant support should arrive “in the coming weeks,” Roku says, while Roku OS 8.2 is rolling out to Roku TVs now. It should finish deployment in November. As for Roku OS 9, that will start rolling out in early November for Roku streaming players, and early in 2023 for Roku TVs, and should finish deployment in Q1 next year.

What To Do If Your Smart Assistant Doesn’t Recognize Your Accent

Smart assistants are one of the coolest creations of the past decade. An AI-powered device that can turn on your lights, order food, and tell you traffic conditions – what’s not to like? It’s almost like Rosie from The Jetsons lives in your house. Unless perhaps you have a strong accent.

A 2023 article from The Washington Post called “The Accent Gap” highlighted the problem well. If you have a “normal” accent, like a neutral American accent, smart assistants will understand you without a problem. On the other hand, Alexa is a lot less likely to understand someone who uses “y’all” on a regular basis. The same goes for any heavy accent.

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Thankfully, there are a few ways to approach the problem. Smart assistants use machine learning to adapt and improve over time, so none of these solutions will be an instant fix. But they will improve how responsive your smart assistant is to spoken commands.

Speak Slowly

It sounds trite, but speaking more slowly has a profound impact on how well your smart assistant can recognize and process your request. 

Speaking slowly means you are more likely to clearly enunciate words, but it also gives the smart assistant time to process what you said. You might speak in full sentences to your smart assistant, but the machine looks for keywords that tell it the answer to return based on a variety of factors.

If speaking slowly doesn’t help, try narrowing your request. For example, you can get the current temperature and forecast by saying “Alexa, weather.” If you reduce what you say to just a handful of words, your smart assistant has a better chance of understanding you.

Avoid Colloquial Terms

Every region of the world has certain words and phrases they use to describe common, everyday things. For example, southern states in the United States tend to refer to all forms of soda as “Coke.” Asking any information about Coke to a smart assistant will return information on the Coca-Cola Company. 

Be specific in how you phrase questions. Avoiding colloquial terms and sticking to formally recognized vocabulary reduces the chance that your smart assistant will misunderstand you.

Find Out If Your Smart Assistant Offers Your Accent As An Option

Smart assistants are trained and programmed to recognize a wide variety of speech patterns; in most cases, manufacturers include the types of accents they are most likely to hear under normal conditions. 

Users have reported that swapping the Language setting from English (United States) to English (United Kingdom) resulted in better responses to users with British accents. 

The Amazon Alexa offers English accents for users with the following accents:

Canadian

Indian

Spanish

Mexican

Italian

Australian

New Zealand

Google Home, on the other hand, offers English accents for the following speakers:

Australia

Canada

India

Indonesia

Ireland

Philippines

Singapore

Thailand

United Kingdom

United States

Change The Language

There’s no reason someone has to speak English when using a smart assistant. Both Amazon Alexa and Google Home have multiple language options. If you discover that your assistant doesn’t understand your accent when speaking English, find out if your native language is an option. 

Spell Things Out

Some smart assistants (Apple’s Siri, most notably) will allow users to spell out what they want. This feature allows users that the system might not otherwise understand to request information. 

While it’s not a perfect solution given the amount of time it takes to spell out words with enough time between each letter for the assistant to recognize, it’s a step in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, none of the current smart devices excel at recognizes English-Asian accents. Their main areas of focus are the United States and other English-speaking countries, but there is hope. Even the current versions of smart assistants are leaps and bounds better than the original versions, and all have better language recognition than they ever have before. 

Is Water The Next Critical Smart Grid?

Oracle survey indicates the adoption of smart water meter technologies is key to conservation.

In light of periodic energy shortages and costs spikes, HP, Google, IBM and a host of other companies have pushed for the broad adoption of smart grid technology to measure usage, spot trends and help control energy costs. Now water may be the next major resource to get the smart grid treatment.

In a recent survey of more than 300 water utility managers conducted by database giant Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), 68 percent said they believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies. At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013, according to a statement from Oracle.

Oracle also found most of the 1,200 U.S. consumers it surveyed felt water conservation was important to them. Specifically, 76 percent said they are concerned about the need to conserve water and said their behavior changes were motivated more by a desire to conserve than to reduce water bill costs. Seventy-one percent said having access to more detailed information about their water consumption would be a key factor in helping motivate their conservation.

IT analyst Charles King said he’s not surprised Oracle would promote smart meter adoption for the water industry. “Someone on the back end has to crunch all the data, and now that Oracle has Sun it can make the case they have a hardware/software solution. IBM (NYSE: IBM) has been promoting the same thing,” King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told chúng tôi “Whether you’re talking about electricity or water or some other utility, it’s an enormously distributed, complex network of data.”

How about smart pricing?

“Water is priced so inexpensively, you can meter it all you want but without pricing intelligence there won’t be any conservation,” Wesoff added. That may explain why, in the Oracle survey, most consumers said cost-saving wasn’t a prime motivation for them.

Wesoff suggests residential water should have a baseline price; X amount for the first few hundred gallons a week, for example, and then priced higher for anything beyond that to encourage conservation. Detailed information on use, such as a smart meter, would be more effective if consumers are faced with specific pain points, such as higher costs, said Wesoff.

On the electricity savings side – a big issue for both consumers and IT – Google’s philanthropic arm, chúng tôi has developed a Web-based metering service called PowerMeter it hopes will be adopted by utilities and device manufacturers.

“Smart grid and smart metering has received a lot of buzz in recent months — with electric utilities receiving most of the spotlight. However, water utilities also face aging infrastructures, sustainability challenges and customer demand for better service,” said Stephan Scholl, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Utilities in a statement.

“Oracle’s ‘Testing the Water’ report indicates that while water utilities realize that smart meter technologies can have a big impact on their business, there is a greater need to focus on consumer education and communication,” Scholl added.

Alisa Mann, customer services manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, said Oracle’s report shows the challenges and benefits of implementing smart meter technologies.

“…we have learned that providing consumers with useful information about conservation really does drive behavior change,” Mann said in a statement.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at chúng tôi the news service of chúng tôi the network for technology professionals.

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