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The era of digital assistants in home automation

The era of digital assistants in home automation
Consumers want seamless integration of devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa to their everyday appliances like ovens, toasters, lights and even access control systems. did a Buyers' Preference Survey on around 200 professional systems integrators, distributors/dealers/importers, consultants, as well as installers worldwide. The 200 respondents shared the key product features that are in demand in the current market.

In the world of home automation, smart assistants are the current trend. Consumers want seamless integration of devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa to their everyday appliances like ovens, toasters, lights and even access control systems. Our survey showed that 41.6 percent of the respondents preferred the Google Home ecosystem while 38.2 percent were interested in Amazon Alexa.

Agreeing that this was indeed a trend, Krystian Bergmann, Head of Customer Experience at FIBARO said that voice assistants used to integrate
Krystian Bergmann
Head, Customer Experience
with smart homes and IoT systems are becoming more common, and with subsequent system upgrades, communication with them is developed with more skill, voice commands or features.

Advanced to simplify

Brad Hintze, Sr Director of Product Marketing at SnapAV, which recently merged with home automation company Control4, pointed out that while the smart home industry has definitely taken off, customers are only seeing the tip of the iceberg for now.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) smart home experiences are often the starting point for homeowners, with smart speakers and devices such as thermostats and light bulbs. But as homeowners become connected to more and more devices, they quickly learn how complex and time consuming a smart home can be.

“This complexity drives homeowners to the professionally installed experience, where the system is the infrastructure for all devices in the home,” Hintze said. “Unlike a smart speaker that provides limited voice control when connected to disparate devices, with professional installation, true integration is made possible. Incorporating sophisticated ‘scenes’ and scheduling of multiple devices, the home becomes truly smart, and brings control of all devices into a singular app, as well as through voice command, remote, touchscreen, and more.”

Several solutions to simplify the automation of understanding smart home commands have been prepared and their main role is to be open to
Brad Hintze
Sr Director
Product Marketing
external manufacturers (for Google it is the Google Home Control). Bergmann explained that this solution significantly improves communication with systems – commands got simpler and more concise. This contributes to building a sense of comfort and awareness of the wide range of possibilities that voice assistants bring to users’ homes.

“An interesting trend in voice control is the increasingly frequent use of voice communication by the system itself, which in a short time will be able to interact with us on daily basis,” Bergmann added. “Nearest future of smart home will discreetly inform us about important events such as alarms. How smart homes let us know of a certain event, of course, these events depend on our needs. It is the man who will decide whether he wants to hear a voice or to see the command in a visual form.”

AI and machine learning

Thirty-six percent of the respondents said they would be looking for solutions that incorporate AI and machine learning. To JC Murphy, President of Savant, AI is an ever-evolving area.

“We think that ‘suggestions’ or ‘favorites’ could be useful in generating AI-based functionality dependent on how the system is used by any given individual over a period of time,” Murphy added.

Speaking about the future, Bergmann stressed on the concept of integration in a smart home as he feels it is important to know that today’s smart
JC Murphy
home system is as good as it is integrated with external solutions.

“Integration with many different products certainly make its capabilities significantly enhanced,” Bergmann said. “Without them, a smart home would have only narrow and specialized functions, which, although interesting and useful, are not able to meet the growing expectations of society. Remember that if you have several devices in your smart home network, you get the multitude of functionality, not just the sum of them.”

For example, a motion detector associated with intelligent lighting, Hi-Fi and alarm systems are a result of three functions. However, if the alarm system is associated with lighting that turns on when a thief enters the house, or if a sensor that does not detect movement for a certain period of time switches on the music or lighting to simulate presence at home, we will get further functionalities that would not have happened without mutual integration. Therefore, building automation itself, without integration or connection, is becoming a rather poor solution today.

Bringing multiple protocols together

One of the major challenges that smart home solution providers need to overcome is supporting different kinds of protocols. Overcoming this challenge is critical for the proper integration of devices.

“Uniting all devices and protocols into one system benefits homeowners by giving them virtually unlimited customized control of any smart device to suit their lifestyle,” Hintze said. “Control4 supports multi-protocols for the smart home including Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, serial, IP, infrared, etc. The advantage of supporting multi-protocols is that it gives homeowners the ability to control all their devices from one system with Control4. For example, a homeowner’s smart TV may be IP, the thermostat is WiFi, and the lights are Zigbee, the Control4 system can integrate and provide control and visibility to all devices.

Multi-protocol support is crucial to creating ‘scenes’ and sophisticated customizations, Hintze continued. For example, homeowners can have a ‘Good Night’ scene programmed into their smart home that with one tap shuts the lights, locks all doors, and turns on an alarm system. Likewise, a ‘Welcome’ scene can turn on the lights, fireplace, and music when the front door is unlocked. Homeowners want to control many devices in their homes, supporting a broad method for connecting to these disparate devices is a requirement for getting there.

More power to assistants

Brad Russell, Research Director at Parks Associates agreed that Amazon Echo and Google Home are the most popular in the U.S. market.
Brad Russell
Research Director
 Parks Associates
There are several potential ways to improve their functionalities.

“Offer a more universal and standardized way to interact with the devices rather than having to conform to proprietary rules for interaction,” Russel said. “Allow the capability to choose from multiple personal assistants supported by the same device in order to match the assistant to certain tasks they may excel at. Also, improve contextual understanding of the home environment by fusing data from multiple sensors in the home which can improve accuracy in fulfilling requests and personalized results and recommendations.”

He also recommended wider interoperability with hardware and digital services that reduces proprietary silos within brand ecosystems. Elevated privacy and security protections with granular controls for managing data collection/sharing/flow and storage, and more localized computing and control without reliance on the cloud would make the technology even more appealing to the customers.

Finally, include low-power networking protocol radios (Zigbee, Z-Wave, DECT/ULE – in addition to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi which are already supported) in smart speakers to make them true smart home hubs capable of supporting a variety of low-power sensors and devices, as well as the supporting control software and security requirements.
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