Office electronics manufacturer Ricoh has launched a way to operate printers, scanners, and related equipment by voice. The new Ricoh Intelligent Voice Control allows office workers to operate the machines by voice command through Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant through the Alexa for Business service. The voice commands are just the latest example of tech developers looking to voice AI for answers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent spike in demand for hygenic ways to use machinery.
The vocal commands are part of Ricoh’s IM Series of intelligent multifunction printers. Alexa for Business controls lets users start a printing job, adjusting the settings in terms of color, amount, and other aspects by asking the voice assistant. The same goes for scanning or faxing documents. Ricoh printer owners can subscribe to the service and connect the printer to an Amazon Echo smart speaker associated with the Alexa for Business account. It’s a kind of enterprise version of the Alexa Print feature Amazon introduced in September that gave Alexa the ability to print calendars, recipes, and even coloring books and puzzles.
Ricoh’s Intelligent Voice Control extends beyond the Echo to the enhanced screen readers on the printers as well as smartphones and tablets with the Ricoh Smart Device Connector. The goal is to make using office equipment easier to use, without the user having to navigate a touchscreen or buttons on the printer, just say out loud what they want to be printed. The service may also ease the concerns of those understandably focused on making work environments as safe as possible when COVID-19 cases are rising in many states.
“More than anything, when customers tell us what they want we listen and we build technology that addresses those needs. Today, customers are focusing on keeping their employees safe and healthy. This is another way to do so, helping them share business-critical information quickly and easily in ways that work for their environment, today and tomorrow,” Ricoh USA vice president of technology innovation and new business development Steven Burger said in a statement. “Voice control is a powerful tool for simplifying complexity. Users no longer have to flip through multiple screens of settings to get their information presented just right. Instead, they can walk up, say their preferences, and let the technology go to work – all with very low-touch interaction.”
This also isn’t Ricoh’s first experience with voice controls. Back in 2017, the company partnered with IBM Watson to give voice commands to smart whiteboards. Still, there’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic has attracted a lot more interest in using voice AI for commercial buildings. Cerence recently launched a Building Mobility Platform to give voice controls to elevators. The AI platform can connect with the current operating system and passengers would say the floor or the name of the office they want to reach without needing to push a button. Voice tech developer Picovoice debuted its own elevator and intercom AI back in March, while smart intercome startup ButterflyMx raised $35 million partly on the surge of interest in contactless technology.