Hotel smart speaker startup Roxy enables custom wake words and enhanced security in new alliance with voice tech company

The Roxy smart speaker with its new phone capabilities. (Roxy Photo)

Roxy, a Seattle startup that is led by former Amazon and Microsoft employees and makes a smart speaker focused on the hotel industry, is teaming up with Sensory to offer more customization options and bolster the security of its devices.

The partnership will allow hotels working with Roxy to offer their own branded wake words, such as “Hey Hilton” or “OK Marriott.” Sensory builds machine learning technology, such as voice, visual and natural language processing, with an emphasis on security for a variety of device types.

In a press release, Roxy also framed the alliance as a way to prevent situations like the recent account of an Amazon Echo eavesdropping on a conversation and sending that information to a contact. Amazon explained that the situation arose through an unlikely series of events that started when an Echo heard what it thought was the word “Alexa,” and directions to send a message to a contact.

Roxy claims that because of Sensory’s “advanced cloud-free wake word detection and Roxy’s structural foundation as a privacy-oriented device, it is impossible for this kind of privacy violation to happen with Roxy,” according to the release.

Le “Grace” Huang, Cam Urban and Peng “Michael” Shao. (Roxy Photo)

In November, Roxy raised a $2.2 million seed round that included investors from the hotel industry, a New York startup studio, a Chinese company and Cooper Manning, the brother of famed NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning.

In recent months, Roxy added a new voice calling feature in a bid to eliminate the need for phones in rooms. It just finished deploying units in the Jupiter Hotel in Portland, replacing the phone system there. It is also fully installed at the

Cam Urban, Roxy CEO, told GeekWire that the company is working with two major hotel chains, but he wouldn’t say which ones. The press release references Hilton and Marriott in terms of custom wake words, but Urban wouldn’t say if that was a hint at the company’s unnamed partners.

Roxy’s focus on smart speaker targeted at businesses rather than consumers has differentiated it from the rest of the smart speaker market, where tech giants like Amazon, Google and others are battling it out. But Amazon jumped into the enterprise market last year with a business-focused version of its digital brain Alexa. It also installed Echo speakers in more than 4,700 rooms at the Wynn Las Vegas.

Urban has started several companies in his career, including Jellyfish Art, before becoming a program manager with Microsoft Azure. Co-founder Peng “Michael” Shao was a leader on the cloud speech team at Amazon focused on the voice-activated technology that powers Alexa. Le “Grace” Huang, another co-founder, has an undergraduate degree in automation and spent four years as a web developer at Amazon, working on projects like Amazon Coins and the Kindle Device Store.

The three founders crossed paths at the University of Washington by chance about three years ago, when they were each looking for new career directions. Shao and Huang had left Amazon, and they were working on an app to communicate with cars via voice commands at the UW CoMotion innovation hub. Urban, who had recently left Microsoft and was working on a new project of his own, toured the facility and was introduced to his future co-founders.

Today, Roxy is up to six employees. Its most recent hire was Morgan Lunt, a product manager with a background in consumer electronics and Internet of Things who has worked at LG.

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