Welcome to perceptual computing. Google recently added hands-free voice search to the beta build of the Chrome browser, a new feature that allows you to simply say “Ok Google” and then dictate your search terms to their browser (assuming your PC has a microphone, of course).
It’s a handy feature, but Google has yet to say when it will be baked in to the official Chrome build. The good news for anyone who wants to talk to their computer right now is that you can manually add hands-free voice search using the Google Voice Search Hotword (Beta) extension.
Yes, it’s also a beta test, but adding an extension to your current browser is a lot simpler than switching over to a less stable version of Chrome, don’t you think?
To get hands-free voice search in Chrome right now, visit the Chrome Web Store to install Google’s extension. Tap the blue button in the upper right corner labeled + Free. A pop-up window will appea,r asking you to authorize installing the extension by clicking Add.
Next, you should see a webpage with settings for the hotword search extension. There isn’t a whole lot to worry about, but if you spend a lot of time using your laptop on battery power then you should probably check the box that says “Stop listening for ‘Ok Google’ hotword detection after 5 minutes.” This setting will save your battery from getting hammered when you’re sitting on a Google search page.
I’m hands-free, now what?
With hotword detection installed, it’s time to take your hands-free searching for a spin. For this extension to work, your browser already has to be pointed at Google.com. The hotword detection plugin does not work when searching via Chrome’s address bar or on the blank tab page, sadly.
The coloring of the microphone on the right side of the search box lets you know if the extension is listening. If the microphone is filled in, hotword detection is active. If the middle of the mic isn’t colored in, hotword detection won’t work.
Keep in mind this is still a beta extension, so sometimes hotword detection may not be active when you expect it to be. In general, however, you should be able to use hotword detection without much hassle.
Here are a few sample uses for hotword detection that tap into Google’s ever-expanding contextual Knowledge Graph.
What time is it?
Let’s say you need to know what time it is in New York City. First say, “Ok Google” and wait for the large red microphone icon to appear. Now, say “what time is it in New York?”
If everything is working properly, Google should start speaking to you with the answer in a few seconds. You can use this feature to search for the time of nearly any city or town in the world.
Show me a picture of…
Another nice trick is to ask for pictures of something you’re searching for, whether it’s a new roof rack for your skis, the Eiffel Tower, or pictures of a cat playing with a printer.
If you’re tracking your calories and want to know how many calories are in an egg, orange, or other standard food, Google can deliver that information on demand.
Those are a few of the Google Now-like features you’ll find using Google search on your PC. But don’t forget you can also use hotword detection for any search you want to carry out on Google. All you have to do is speak clearly into the microphone.