Hopes and promises for open-source voice assistants

Paulus Schoutsen, founder of the open-source home-automation project Home Assistant, declared 2023 as "the year of voice" for the popular platform. The goal of the initiative is to enable users to control their homes through offline voice commands in their own language.

Voice control is a complex and computationally intensive task, which is usually delegated to the cloud. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple make us believe that we need their cloud-based services to be able to use voice control. Of course, this comes with downsides: users don't have any control over what happens with their voice recordings, posing a significant privacy risk. But, fundamentally, the problem lies even deeper. It just makes no sense for users to have their voices make a long detour through the internet just to turn on a light in the same room.

In the past, projects like Snips and Mycroft attempted offline voice control but faced business challenges. Rhasspy, an independent open-source voice-assistant project that has been active for a few years now, was quite successful among the niche crowd of tinkerers and those who built their own voice assistants around the flexible services the project offered. [1] However, the core of Rhasspy was mainly developed by one person, and the project wasn't backed financially.

Last month, I wrote an article for LWN.net about these three projects: Hopes and promises for open-source voice assistants. I expressed the hope that Rhasspy would finally give us the ability to control our homes with a user-friendly voice assistant that is both privacy respecting and made from open-source software. Rhasspy's developer, Michael Hansen, has been hired by Nabu Casa, the company behind Home Assistant, and they're tightly integrating Rhasspy into their home-automation software.

In the mean time, OpenVoiceOS, a community that forked Mycroft, has published a FAQ about the future of Mycroft. I already alluded to Mycroft's revival in my article, but the plans were still vague at the time. By now, it looks like Mycroft has a real chance to live on in OpenVoiceOS.

Overall, these are exciting times for open-source voice control.