Do you own an Amazon Echo or one of the Google Home devices? If so, how are you using it? Amazon thinks that you’re not using any new voice apps after you try them out. And they’re not wrong. I can attest to that myself. Which is where Pulse Labs come into effect. Pulse Labs is a new startup that is working with voice app developers to test out new apps on a target audience before publicly launching. The aim is to get feedback from real people that can improve voice apps — called Alexa Skills on Amazon’s platform and Actions on Google’s platform — so they have a better chance at success when they become available to the masses.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, the work that Pulse Labs is doing has caught the attention of two parties that have a lot on riding on Alexa’s success – Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, and Amazon’s Alexa Fund. So Bezos, through his investment fund Bezos Expeditions, and the Alexa Fund have invested in a $2.5 million seed round for Pulse Labs led by the Seattle-based venture firm Madrona Venture Group. Techstars Ventures also participated in the round. The startup has built an online panel of testers who get compensated in exchange for trying out and providing feedback on their experiences with certain voice apps.
Currently, Pulse works with Alexa app developers now, but they will start working with Google app developers later this quarter. 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 test apps from a real-world perspective.
Why is voice so popular right now? According to Pulse Labs co-founder and CEO, Abhishek Suthan suggests, “its 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.”
Getting back to the gap that Pulse Labs is hoping to fill. Voice assistants, like Alexa, work to identify questions based on context and user patterns. But Pulse is hoping to be part of developing the AI’s responses based on things like the way the questions are asked. This is key in helping to develop a more nuanced voice experience. Which kind of sounds like we are going to be interacting more with “robots”. And is this the next step in Elon Musk’s vision of the future where “robots” have taken over? I’m not sure that this is where Pulse Labs is going to take us, but that’s always a question in the back of my mind when we discuss the impact that AI will have on our lives.