How Jeanine Heck makes it possible for you to talk to your TV - Technical.ly Philly

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Sep. 9, 2015 10:26 am

How Jeanine Heck makes it possible for you to talk to your TV

When she's not mentoring Philly's up-and-coming technologists, Jeanine Heck develops — and continually improves — Comcast's new voice-controlled remote.

Jeanine Heck with Comcast's AI-powered voice remote.

(Courtesy photo)

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Jeanine Heck, Comcast’s Senior Director of Product Development who mentors an all-girls robotics team at Saint Hubert Catholic High School for Girls. This time, we’ll catch you up on Heck’s busy year at Comcast, which she spent developing the new Xfinity remote with voice control.

Heck, who holds a degree in engineering, has been with Comcast for eight years. Her role as a product manager allows her to provide customers with a valuable product experience, while remaining involved in the technical side of things.

“My focus is on the software and making sure that when you press the button, it does exactly what you’d expect,” Heck explains.

According to Heck, the voice remote began development in 2011, “ramped up” in 2012 and launched as a mobile app during the first week of 2013. The introduction of the product via mobile app allowed Comcast developers such as Heck to observe user habits and optimize features toward customer experience, before launching the remote itself.

The talking remote. (Courtesy photo)

“Our intuition was correct that [the product] would get a lot more usage if it was a physical remote,” Heck recalls. Now, the voice remote is available to all customers of Comcast’s X1 operating system.

The fundamental purpose of the voice remote is self evident: it eliminates the need for customers to navigate button controls and allows users to give vocal commands to their televisions. Gone is the need to memorize channel numbers or click through endless schedules to find a certain show.

With the voice remote, users can simply ask for a show, channel, movie, music artist, or actor to view an array of related content. These capabilities are especially helpful to users who have difficulty navigating the small buttons on a remote.

Heck starts each day at Comcast by touching base with her engineering team to talk about what everyone did the day before, what they’ll do today and the group’s overall objectives. Next up are meetings and collaborations with the marketing team to ensure that all promotional materials align with the voice remote’s actual features.

The promotional process, in fact, is where the voice remote team has found space to have a little bit of fun. Partnerships with the Minions franchise and pop star Taylor Swift have resulted in some of the product’s most amusing features. If you say “banana” — a common term in “Minionese” — into the remote, you’ll be met with a selection of food-related content. Similarly, say “1989,” and a cheery-sounding Swift will respond, “excellent choice.”

These “Easter egg” features, as Heck calls them, allow the voice remote to serve as a prime example of innovation in both entertainment and technology. “The interface is one button,” she says, “but the possibilities are endless.”

With another school year ramping up, Heck plans to continue serving as a mentor for BambieBotz, Saint Hubert’s all-girls robotics team. She says of the last year, “It was a really exciting thing to go through, but I have even more ideas of how to make it better this year.”

The team focuses on the building of the robots themselves, of course, but Heck plans to dedicate more of the girls’ efforts toward collaborations and building relationships with other teams. “I’m really excited to be involved again,” she says, adding that the program is “a way for girls to see how cool technology can be at a young age.”

Although Heck juggles a variety of duties while managing a cutting-edge product such as the voice remote, she has a clear answer when friends and family ask her to describe her job: “I help people find something to watch on TV.” It’s that simple.

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Companies: Comcast
People: Jeanine Heck
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