It was a slow build, but between smart speakers, mobile devices and a growing army of connected home products, voice interfaces are poised to continue growing at a rapid clip. In a majority of cases, however, the experience is still extremely rudimentary.
We’re still very much in the early days, of course, but Seattle-based startup Pulse Labs is hoping to be among the first to help build a more tailored experience for apps built on top of Alexa, Google Assistant and the like.
In the short term, the company’s goals largely revolve around helping voice app developers recognize and build experiences for specific demographics. The company will do so with help from $2.5 million in seed funding led by Madrona Venture, along with Techstars and, notably, the Amazon Alexa Fund and Bezos Expeditions, which have a clear vested interest in building better voice assistant experiences.
“As one of the companies in the inaugural Alexa Accelerator class we are excited to make a follow-on investment in Pulse Labs as the company continues to innovate in the area of skill testing,” Alexa Fund director Paul Bernard said in a press release tied to the news. “Pulse provides a great way for brands to understand user interaction and gain rich feedback to create engaging customer experiences.”
Pulse’s current model involves crowdsourcing experiences to third-party partners, including market research firms designed to offer users in a specific target demographic. The idea is to take the burden of testing out of the dogfooding models, instead running apps through paces with real-world testing.
From there, it’s possible to build an experience that better understands the nuances of real human speech among different age groups and different geographical locales, along with other variables.
“Why is voice so popular?” Pulse Labs co-founder and CEO Abhishek Suthan asked TechCrunch rhetorically on a phone call this week. “It’s because it gives the opportunity to create a personalized experience. That’s essentially where this market is going and what we want to drive. The way you create these personalized experiences is to truly understand users. Gone are the days when human beings need to learn to interact with machines. We’re now in a time when machines need to learn to interact with humans.”
The startup’s longer-term goal is a more ambitious one: helping to develop a model wherein services can adapt to their users subtly over time. Voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant work to identify questions based on context and user patterns, but Pulse is hoping to be a part of developing the AI’s responses based on things like the way questions are asked — an important key in helping to develop a more nuanced voice experience.
The company, which was founded last year, has already been working with Alexa developers, with plans to expand to more assistants, including Google’s, in spite of Amazon’s direct investment.