Home Technology Blog

Voice Control Creeps Into Home Automation

September 19, 2014 | Comments

Ponder this: If not for the remote control, there would be no couch potatoes and no coffee table clutter - and we Americans just might be a little more trim and fit.

Fact is, the ubiquitous hand-held remote has been the primary means of operating TVs and electronics gear for more than a half a century, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, even as tactile buttons slowly give way to touch screens that emulate smartphone-like swipe and tap control. (Of course, smartphones and tablets themselves are only an app away from becoming remotes.)

Still, the seeds of change have been planted as product designers develop new, hands-free ways to operate electronics devices using eye tracking, gesture control, and voice, which has found its sweet spot thanks to Apple's Siri.

The ability to use spoken commands to control the world around us can be a godsend when you're in the middle of activities like driving, walking into the house with a bundle of groceries, or multitasking in the kitchen. Here's a glimpse of how voice control is edging its way into home automation.

The App Approach

Next-generation apps provide Siri-like intelligent voice assistance for controlling lights, thermostats, security systems, entertainment gear, and other devices in the home. Speaking phrases such as "turn on the lights" or "set the temperature to 70 degrees" summon a friendly female voice to provide confirmation - "lights on" or "temperature now set to 70 degrees" - when the task is complete.

You can also inquire about the status of your house, or even set up a "good night" command to receive a verbal rundown giving the current temperature and confirming that all interior lights are off, the front door is locked, and the security system is armed.

The Stand-Alone Interface

Another approach revolves around a stand-alone speech interface that connects wirelessly to a home automation system, directly or via the Internet. Instead of pushing buttons, you control things in your home by talking. What could be more natural?

A compact module with a built-in long-range microphone enables voice control from the room in which it's located; the device can be placed almost anywhere - on a coffee table, on the wall or in a cabinet (connected to an external microphone).

Instead of "listening" all the time and attempting to respond to idle conversation - which could get interesting - you generally have to use a "wake-up" phrase to activate the voice control system. Some stand-alone systems are less freewheeling than their app-based counterparts because they react to specific commands instead of responding to natural speech the way Siri does.

The Talking Touch Screen

Home automation companies are starting to incorporate multi-lingual voice control into the touch screen interfaces they offer for whole-house control. These multifunctional screens are packed with features such as web browsing/streaming, and they can control pretty much any household system you can think of - from audio and video to lighting and shades to heating/cooling, security, and more.

To learn more about the many facets of home automation, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.