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Hound Voice Search App Solves the Talk-Like-a-Robot Problem

Based on tech that’s been in development for nine years, Hound may eliminate some of the awkwardness inherent in speaking to your phone.
Image: SoundHound, Inc.

A new voice search app called Hound promises to fix one of the biggest annoyances of using voice search: having to speak with the cadence of a robot.

The app, which publicly launches on iOS and Android on Tuesday morning following a lengthy private beta, lets users, say, search for pizza places within walking distance and hotels under a certain budget. Users can also hail an Uber using nothing more than the sound of their voice, something SoundHound CEO Keyvan Mohajer was particularly proud of when I spoke to him last week.

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And crucially, these voice commands can be uttered with natural intonation—that is, you don't have to mimic the pattern of a robot to have the app understand your commands.

"Obviously we can use the Uber app to book a trip, but how many times do you want a cost or time estimate [before booking]?" asked Mohajer, who noted that the underlying voice recognition technology has been in development for nine years. "You have to go through the booking process to get those values. But Hound makes that really easy."

How easy? Well, to check where the nearest Uber is located, a Hound user would merely have to say, "Where is the nearest Uber?" The app then audibly replies, "The nearest UberX is [N] minutes away." Actually booking a trip can be accomplished in one of several ways, such as by asking, "How long would an Uber take me to get to the airport?" The app then provides an estimate before then asking if you'd like to book the trip. Simply answering "Yes" then summons the Uber to your exact location.

Beyond Uber and Yelp-powered local search, Hound also supports navigation, phone calls and text messages, and flight search, among several others. These categories are called domains, and are continually in development, according to Mohajer.

"You will be talking to that TV and to this [conference room phone," said Mohajer. "Our vision is that you will be talking to everything."