Google is eager to compete with Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana in selling artificially intelligent personal assistants, and the tech colossus is eyeing cooperation with the travel industry as one of the surest paths toward making its services popular.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018, the annual product event in Las Vegas, the tech giant has been unveiling a handful of travel-related features for its Google Home and related products, including instant translations and flight check-in and booking tools.
In a test with United for domestic flights, Google Assistant will soon be able to check U.S.-based travelers for their flights. Consumers will need their flight confirmation details and will have to say something like, “Hey Google, check me in to my flight.” The tool will also fetch digital boarding passes.
The company said more airlines would be participating soon.
In the next few days, Google will make the functionality available on Android and Apple devices, though Apple users will need to download the Google Assistant mobile app.
In a statement, the company said that if a consumer knows the name of where they would like to book a room, they can reserve it using the voice-powered Google Assistant.
One caveat: the property must belong to a participating major brand, such as Choice Hotels, AccorHotels, and InterContinental Hotels Group, or bookable via Priceline and Expedia. It is striving to make other properties available for voice-powered booking via tech integrations with providers like Mirai and Amadeus-backed TravelClick.
On Tuesday, the tech giant unveiled an “interpreter mode” for Google Home Hubs at the concierge desk at Caesars Palace.
When a person says a trigger phrase like “Hey Google, be my Mandarin interpreter,” on any Assistant-enabled device, and the device will offer translations first of what one person says and then of the response. Each of the two human speakers gets to hear their words automatically translated.
This winter, Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and Dream Downtown in New York City will pilot the translation service. For example, the Dream Downtown has added two Google Hubs running Google Assistant Interpreter at its check-in front desk and its concierge desk, said Christian Cooper, said Dream Hotel Group vice president of IT.
Google is a leader in real-time translation functionality, though the field is still working on the basics. The company’s last significant step with voice-powered translation functionality on its hardware came in November 2017, when it began selling its Google Pixel Buds product.
When we tested that product at the time, we found its translations were serviceable but included too many mistakes, lacked nuance, and came too slowly to keep up with the pace of normal human speech.
Skift hasn’t yet tested Google’s new interpreter mode, which will be added to Google Home devices and smart displays over the next few weeks. But reports of tests by others at CES suggest that the performance is about the same, though now Google is supporting 27 languages.
We suspect that no device on the market can provide accurate, real-time translations between languages beyond the slowest and most elementary types of exchanges. But the travel industry is understandably willing to experiment with halfway fixes.
At CES Google said it was planning more hardware integrations with products and manufacturers that hotels and airlines already work with, such as Samsung TVs. Already the company said its assistant works with more than 1,600 home automation brands and more than 10,000 devices — though “works,” as always, is in the ear of the listener.