Google I/O is about to kick off and we're set to see a lot of news and demos of what's next for Google in the smart home. We thought we'd break down a few of the faces you might see from Google as well as a couple of lesser known names who are nonetheless working on Google Home, Assistant and, of course, Nest.
Read this: A who's who in the smart home world
Here are the execs, designers and engineers shaping the future of your Google-powered home, including fresh hires like Google's new head of AI.
Google's senior vice president of hardware since 2016, Osterloh joined from his job as president of Motorola, and before Moto, he was a Skype exec. His job is to make Google's gadgets great and get Assistant into all the devices we use. That now includes not only Pixel phones, Daydream headsets and the Google Home line of smart speakers but also all Nest products too, now that's back under the Alphabet umbrella.
As VP for product management and general manager for Home Products, Rishi Chandra is in charge of the direction of Google Home, Chromecast and Google Wifi. That's rapidly expanding, though, as in April he told Variety that Google isn't ruling out building its own smart display, its new category of smart-speakers-with-screens from Lenovo, JBL and more. “The simple truth is we need to become a must-have product,” he said “I’m looking for daily-use cases.”
Before moving up to his current VP post, Chandra was an exec in the Chromecast and Google TV teams and before that, he worked on Google Apps.
Google's new head of AI, Jeff Dean, is filling the role left empty by John Giannandrea, Apple's new head of machine learning and AI strategy. Dean has been at Google since 1999, so early days, and since 2012 he has led the Google Brain research group, based on initial research into deep neural networks as part of Google's X lab.
Dean told Wired that healthcare is one direction he sees Google's AI efforts going in, and obviously this kind of role has effects across everything "AI first" Google does. But the next few years could determine if Google Assistant (and the technologies behind it like search, Knowledge Graph etc) has a big part to play in how we interact with our gadgets, including in the home.
Ivy Ross, Google's VP and head of design for Google hardware, is widely credited with bringing back the tactility and soul of products like those created by star senior designers like Isabelle Olsson (below). And that approach is going to be key to winning the hearts of aesthetics-conscious smart home owners.
Ross' design career hasn't just been in tech, though – she's worked with a whole host of big name brands from Gap to Disney, Swatch, Calvin Klein and Mattel. She told Design Milk earlier this year that Google's new identity is "human, optimistic and bold".
The lead designer of Google Glass now spends her time as head of industrial design for Home and Wearables, looking at future colour palettes for speakers and designing home-friendly shaped and sized devices like the Google Home Mini. Google's latest exhibition at Milan Design Week – SoftWear – showed off Olsson's design language across smart home kit, VR headsets and more.
Nest's CEO Marwan Fawaz now reports to Rick Osterloh, since the smart home company has been brought back into the Alphabet fold. Fawaz has been heading up Nest since summer 2016, in which time we've seen its move into smart home security with Secure and Hello as well as update existing products. At the moment though, the numbers suggest that Nest is costing Google a lot of money as it builds out its ready made ecosystem.
Currently serving as director of product management for Google Assistant, Lilian Rincon is especially interested in how biases and backgrounds of engineers and designers affect the outcomes we get from AI products like voice assistants. She also works to promote Women in STEM at Google and beyond. Before making the move to Mountain View, Rincon was a translation program manager at Skype and has also worked on Microsoft's search engine Bing.
Scott Huffman is Google's VP of engineering for Google Assistant – an important job – and he's not been shy when talking about his long term ambition: to build an always on, ambient Star Trek style tech that knows everything about us and what we need at any given moment, no matter what bit of tech we're using. “You should have the same assistant helping you across all the contexts of your life,” he said at the LG press conference at this year's CES.
Assistant might be in 5,000 devices now – with designs on many more – but speakers are still the hottest category in the smart home. And Google knows sound is important. Francis Kwee is the lead acoustics engineer on the high end Google Home Max and has also worked on the original Google Home.
Kwee's CV includes working on the RAZR flip phone and she told the Google Blog about designing audio systems for the home. "We recognise that we’re not selling speakers to operate in sound studios… Since all homes are different, we trained our machine learning model to recognise thousands of different room configurations."