- One of the very early features introduced by voice assistants were specific voice skill sets that were aimed at home automation
- The trend of embedding IoT aka smart features in consumer electronics is on a sharp rise
Voice Assistant technology is rapidly gaining acceptance thanks to the successful introduction of Amazon Alexa and Google Home. By the end of 2018, barely five years since their introduction, Google Home claimed to have sold over 52 million units worldwide and Amazon Alexa seems to have sold similar number of their Echo units.
Additionally, these voice assistants are now being integrated into other devices and Alexa claimed that based on such integrations, their voice assistants are available globally in more than 100 million devices. In short, voice assistants are here to stay and are getting to be part of our daily lives. For the most part these Voice Assistants are currently used in homes, by most members of families.
Evolution of home automation and consumer electronics
The home automation space itself has been evolving constantly over the years. During its initial lifecycle it was a technology largely intended for luxury homes with dedicated equipment, such as LCD screens sprinkled across the home. With the rise of Smart Phones, the availability the internet on these phones and the emergence of IoT (internet of things) technologies, suddenly there was an opportunity for all homes to be made into smart homes. Whether it was a simple electric outlet that was automated or an entire home consisting of lights, fans, ACs, curtains/blinds, TVs and media devices, it could be easily automated to be controlled and monitored via Smart Apps. So, home automation has suddenly been accelerated through the arrival of these technologies.
However, the interface to all the Home Automation over the years, have been some form of Apps. Earlier they used to be apps that worked on dedicated screens, and now they are Smart Apps that work on any Smart Phone or tablet that we use on a daily basis for multiple other uses. The arrival of Voice Assistants is however changing that, and quite rapidly.
Most of the consumer electronics are themselves getting smarter via their ability to connect to the internet and provide more features for users through cloud computing power they can access. This smartness may largely be around providing information to the user about their operating status, or even the ability to manage some of their controls remotely. The cloud can also store data from these devices for access by the users at any time.
Specific voice skill sets
One of the very early features introduced by voice assistants were specific ‘Voice Skill Sets’ that were aimed at Home Automation. The intent was to allow Home Automation companies to adopt these skills to allow their home automation capabilities to be controlled by voice. While it seemed initially a just a gimmick, the value that it created became quickly apparent in a number of situations.
While leaving the home in a hurry, instead of having to pull out the phone and fiddle with the Smart App to take care of devices that were on and needed to be turned off, it was much easier to say “Hey Google, Leaving Home” or “Alexa, Leaving Home”. As long as “Leaving Home” was a term pre-configured in the Home Automation system, it would understand that this was a signal to turn off all the specific electrical outlets, switches and devices that should be turned off when you leave the home. Similarly when you return home with your hands full of shopping or bags, simply “Alexa, I am home” will take care of turning on, all the things that you need turned ON. The integration of voice technology into home automation also benefits the young and the seniors at home, who might not be able to handle Smart Apps, but certainly can use voice technologies for controlling lights, fans, ACs and even change the channel on the TV.
Even voice enabled panic “phrases” can be used by them to initiate a call for help if they should need it. So all in all Voice Assistants are changing Home Automation by offering more options than ever to all the members of the family to make better use of the Home Automation features that are already in place.
Voice assisted appliances is a new phenomenon. The entire area of voice assistants is less than five years old and just emerging. So in the next five years we can anticipate many devices to be voice enabled via voice assistants. These may be speakers like Alexa or Google Home or simply via built-in speakers in device that still use Alexa or Google Home voice skill services.
The author of this article is Dr Narendra Bhat. Dr Bhat is a co-founder in the Buildtrack tem. BuildTrack provides solutions in smart automation and Internet of Things (IoT) for homes, enterprises, hotels, hospitals, senior living, energy efficiency and building management systems (BMS).