What is a voice assistant?

By using voice assistants with the Speech service, developers can create natural, human-like, conversational interfaces for their applications and experiences.

The voice assistant service provides fast, reliable interaction between a device and an assistant implementation that uses either Direct Line Speech (via Azure Bot Service) for adding voice capabilities to your bots or Custom Commands for voice-command scenarios.

Choose an assistant solution

The first step in creating a voice assistant is to decide what you want it to do. Speech service provides multiple, complementary solutions for crafting assistant interactions. For flexibility and versatility, you can add voice in and voice out capabilities to a bot by using Azure Bot Service with the Direct Line Speech channel, or you can simply author a Custom Commands app for more straightforward voice-command scenarios.

If you want... Consider using... Examples
Open-ended conversation with robust skills integration and full deployment control Azure Bot Service bot with Direct Line Speech channel
  • "I need to go to Seattle"
  • "What kind of pizza can I order?"
Voice-command or simple task-oriented conversations with simplified authoring and hosting Custom Commands
  • "Turn on the overhead light"
  • "Make it 5 degrees warmer"
  • More examples at Speech Studio

If you aren't yet sure what you want your assistant to do, we recommend Direct Line Speech as the best option. It offers integration with a rich set of tools and authoring aids, such as the Virtual Assistant solution and enterprise template and the QnA Maker service, to build on common patterns and use your existing knowledge sources.

If you want to keep it simpler for now, Custom Commands makes it easy to build rich, voice-command apps that are optimized for voice-first interaction. Custom Commands provides a unified authoring experience, an automatic hosting model, and relatively lower complexity, all of which can help you focus on building the best solution for your voice-command scenario.

Screenshot of a graph comparing the relative complexity and flexibility of the two voice assistant solutions.

Reference architecture for building a voice assistant by using the Speech SDK

Conceptual diagram of the voice assistant orchestration service flow.

Core features

Whether you choose Direct Line Speech or Custom Commands to create your assistant interactions, you can use a rich set of customization features to customize your assistant to your brand, product, and personality.

Category Features
Custom keyword Users can start conversations with assistants by using a custom keyword such as "Hey Contoso." An app does this with a custom keyword engine in the Speech SDK, which you can configure by going to Get started with custom keywords. Voice assistants can use service-side keyword verification to improve the accuracy of the keyword activation (versus using the device alone).
Speech-to-text Voice assistants convert real-time audio into recognized text by using speech-to-text from the Speech service. This text is available, as it's transcribed, to both your assistant implementation and your client application.
Text-to-speech Textual responses from your assistant are synthesized through text-to-speech from the Speech service. This synthesis is then made available to your client application as an audio stream. Microsoft offers the ability to build your own custom, high-quality Neural Text to Speech (Neural TTS) voice that gives a voice to your brand. To learn more, contact us.

Get started with voice assistants

We offer the following quickstart articles, organized by programming language, that are designed to have you running code in less than 10 minutes:

Sample code and tutorials

Sample code for creating a voice assistant is available on GitHub. The samples cover the client application for connecting to your assistant in several popular programming languages.

Customization

Voice assistants that you build by using Speech service can use a full range of customization options.

Note

Customization options vary by language and locale. To learn more, see Supported languages.

Next steps