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With the rise in popularity of Apple’s ‘Siri’ voice control, it was only a matter of time before voice control was tried in home automation environments. Recently we have seen a number of videos demonstrating voice control for home automation.
Apple’s ‘Siri’ has helped to raise the popularity of voice control
Individuals and companies have been experimenting with voice control for a while now. Even we (CommandFusion) have a module that makes use of Apple’s voice recognition system which allows implementation of voice control in iViewer and many people do use it.
But is voice control practical? Is it really going to be the revolution in home automation that some people seem to think it will be and change the way we control our homes forever? Or maybe it’s a passing fad or a useful tool…but for limited applications?
In this article I’m going to take a look at some of the benefits and problems of voice control for home automation and provide our conclusions from the solutions and products we have researched.
Benefits of Voice Control in a Home Automation System
The benefits of having voice control over your home automation system are obvious. Who hasn’t thought about having a system such as Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S.?
Imagine getting home, you have just been to the grocery store, you have your hands full and it’s dark. You ask your home automation system to turn the lights on and it does!
Many voice control systems are interactive, and will respond with answers to certain questions. You could ask your home automation system for a weather forecast, or tell it to change the channel on the TV for you.
Voice controlling your home automation system gives you voice access to any function of your home automation system. This can be extremely useful for people with physical limitations – such as the elderly and the physically disabled. I can really see voice controlled systems being a huge deal for quadriplegics and others with a similar level of movement restrictions. Someone that is wheelchair bound and doesn’t have control of their arms can still quite easily control almost any system that is hooked up to the home automation controller.
Everyone would love to have J.A.R.V.I.S. controlling their home
Disadvantages of Voice Control in a Home Automation System
Voice controlled home automation systems have a number of disadvantages that need to be considered before deciding to install such a setup.
The first, and largest problem is the fact that many voice controlled systems are not completely hands free. Voice control systems that run on mobile devices still require you to press a button on your device before you can issue a command. Doesn’t this negate that whole point of having voice control? You still need to get your phone out of your pocket, open the app and hit the appropriate button and THEN you can issue the voice command. This is not really any more convenient or time saving, it would be just as easy, and even quicker to simply use an app such as iViewer and press the button for the command you want to send. Even if the app has a hands free mode for voice control, it still needs to be open and running on the device the whole time – this drains the battery and means the device cannot be used to other functions.
To be useful, a voice controlled home automation system needs to be completely hands free. This means that you need the ability to be able to issue a command at any time, without the need to first activate a listening mode. There are systems available that offer this, but they require special hardware to be installed in the house. This can be expensive, and often they are only guaranteed to work with certain brands of home automation hardware.
On all the systems we have seen demonstrations of, the voice prompts and information given back are slow. There are videos out there showing a user asking the system what the temperature is in a certain room, by the time the system responds – you could have quickly seen this info yourself on your iViewer GUI as well of any other info you wanted to show on the same page. Or maybe you want to know what the weather forecast is for the next week – with a simple glance at a GUI on a tablet or phone you can see the whole weeks weather. The time it would take for the system to read that information out to you would be excruciating.
Overall, it seems that voice controlled home automation systems can be useful – but in a limited fashion and most of the time, only when being used with a standard control setup such as iViewer.
Most of the time it really would be just as easy to press the button for the desired action (or macro of commands) on a button panel or graphical user interface. Saying the voice command, waiting for it to be acknowledged and the command sent is simply slower than pressing a button.
It is also much easier to set an exact level such as a volume, light level or temperature via a GUI. You can quickly and easily set these levels via a simple slider – to the exact setting that you want. Removing the need to say “Turn volume up” multiple times.
Also having a graphical user interface gives the users quick, easy and customized access to all the information they want to see in as few or as many pages as they like. There is no need to wait for information to be read out. Can you imagine asking for a description of the movie you are considering watching via your voice controlled system? Even if you do ask for it via voice, and it displays on your mobile device – why not just scroll through the list of movies on your phone/tablet yourself? It would be much quicker.
Then there is the annoyance factor. Sure, it would be cool at first to issue commands to your house via your voice, asking it to turn lights on and off, change the channel etc. But after a while, wouldn’t you feel like you were going a bit crazy talking to a computer? Other occupants of the house and visitors also need to be considered, it would be a cool feature to show off at first, but it could get quite annoying in the long run. A well programmed and well thought out home automation system will actually do many of the functions that you would need voice control for automatically. After all, isn’t that what the definition home automation is? Picture this scenario again, you are coming home from the grocery store – its dark and your hands are full. A true home automation system would sense that you are in a certain area and know that the light levels are below the safe level. It would automatically turn on the lights for you and adjust the heating/cooling as required. It could even lock the door behind you – all without the need for you personally to issue any commands at all to the home automation system.
Now after saying all this, we do believe there are certain applications where voice controlled systems will make a world of difference. As previously mentioned – these systems could really change physically disables people’s lives for the better.
If you are going to implement a voice controlled system, have it as a secondary system for particular times when you have no other way to access the controls to your home automation system. Don’t implement a voice controlled system because you think it will save you time and hassle, because it won’t. Look into mobile device home automation solutions such as CommandFusion’s iViewer – it will allow you to create a GUI to suit your (or your customers) needs specifically. Make it look how you want it to look, and show you the information you want it to show. Some of these apps can usually control any device that can be controlled via Ethernet, and if it doesn’t have Ethernet control – simply throw in some CommandFusion hardware to connect it to the system! Then, if you still want voice control – add it on as additional functionality, not as the main user interface.
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