Living in the Age of Jetsons (minus flying cars)
In the early 1960s, "The Jetsons" treated TV audiences to a cartoon future filled with jetpacks, flying cars, and helpful robot maids named Rosie... Swap Rosie for Alexa, and 50 years later we're edging closer and closer to realizing that colorful vision of the future. And amid all the new high-tech gadgetry, energy efficiency is emerging as one of our biggest 21st Century winners.
In April 2015 Amazon announced the integration of Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo smarthome devices with their voice recognition/personal assistant system Amazon Echo. Prior to that the Echo was more of a curiosity that could provide weather reports, update the latest news and sports scores, and tell jokes. Amazon followed up later in the year with announcements of Wink-compatible lighting products from GE, Leviton, and Lutron and Samsung SmartThings Hub integration.
What makes these developments revolutionary on the smarthome front is that voice-activated control of smart devices is no longer anchored to a smartphone. While there are other options that provide voice-controlled personal assistants (Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now, and Windows’ Cortana), they all currently rely on the use of the respective system’s smartphone or tablet for control. The game changing feature of the Amazon Echo is that it lies in wait, to be activated by voice, and then responds to voice commands — we’re talking voice control like the Jetsons or Star Trek.
The smarthome has now escaped the tyranny of the remote control. Kids and even non-tech savvy adults have been empowered to take control of smart devices being introduced into the home. Control is now invisible and multi-user. Devices can be turned on and off by the sound of anyone’s voice.
This represents a huge maturation in the development of the smarthome, and it will foster wider acceptance of these new technologies beyond techies, first adopters, and millennials.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January, the Amazon Echo was declared the star of the show even though Amazon was not even at the show. It was announced that Alexa, the voice recognition platform of the Amazon Echo, would be enabled with home security features through Vivint and alarm.com. A number of third parties including Ford have adopted the Alexa platform for their own device voice control. Acceptance and adoption by developers and device makers of Alexa extends the Amazon service and platform throughout the house and beyond. The interoperability and interconnectivity of a larger number of devices under the Amazon Echo ecosystem means more seamless control of the smarthome. Wider consumer experience and acceptance will encourage greater adoption of these types of devices.
What does this mean for energy efficiency? Smarthome devices provide the opportunity for greater energy savings by making it easier and more convenient to operate devices efficiently, ranging from light switches and electrical outlets to smart thermostats. As consumers flock to the Amazon Echo to enjoy its benefits, the adoption and use of these smart devices is encouraged. Greater market penetration means greater energy savings.
The excitement and enthusiasm towards the Amazon Echo is just one indication of the game-changing impact that voice recognition and activation is bringing to the smarthome market. As tech continues to evolve, the advances should continue to be a boon to energy efficiency efforts as well. And Rosie will likely keep her job too — after all, somebody still needs to dust the Echo once in a while.