Why voice recognition and lighting control technology might be a thing

Have you started talking to your lights yet?  Probably not but a lot of people are using voice as a way of controlling their mobile devices. Controlling the “smart” devices in your house is a logical progression.   Siri and Alexa are literally going to be household names.  If you’re not aware of them now the figures suggest you soon will be. There are lots of different statistics on the growth of voice search and voice control of our mobiles and tablets but they all agree that it’s an area of huge and rapid growth.  Amazon, Google and Apple all seem to believe that voice is going to be a big thing.  They’re all making hardware available that allows us to use it and they are investing heavily in advertising.

Alex advertising - bus posters May 2017

What’s in it for the consumer giants apart from giving them another front on which to fight? They want your attention and they want your loyalty but the good news is that they’re offering you a lot in return and its easy and relatively low cost to drop your toe in the water.

I’ve got to put my hand up here. I love Alexa where I find Siri irritating and sometimes utterly gormless. So much of Apple’s offering seems to be at its best when planning vacations in New Mexico and falls short when actually trying to do something useful. I’ve not tried Google Home yet.  I will because we’ll want to test it with Lutron and Control4.  I’m not looking to have a houseful of different competing virtual assistants by choice. I might have no choice in the end if every piece of kit in my house develops its own voice interface. Amazon wants to sell me stuff; that’s fine.  I find buying things from Amazon convenient and remarkably quick given quite how remote our house is.  I don’t know what Apple and Google want but I suspect it’s world domination (in Apple’s case followed by a quick vacation in New Mexico with photos streamed seamlessly to iCloud…)

So what has this got to do with lighting? Well, Lutron which is our primary lighting control system has quietly announced a full house. Lutron HomeWorks QS and its v2 Connect Bridge offers integration with Alexa, Google Home and now Apple’s Homekit.  Homekit integration means Siri and there are strong rumours of an Apple Smart Speaker being announced at WWDC in June. No matter which platform you follow, you’ll be able to use it for voice control of a Lutron HomeWorks system.

Alexa, turn on the garden lights

What does that actually mean? Put simply, you can now ask your virtual assistant to turn the lights on or turn on a particular scene or turn the ground floor or the whole house off. If you’ve a wider automation system like Control4 you can do a whole lot more. You can tie other elements into those scenes so when you say “Alexa, turn on the movie scene” you can turn on your TV or projector, set the amp to the right input and fire up your media server or streaming service while the lights gradually dim around you.

What’s it like to use? Surprisingly good is the simple answer. There’s a degree of lag but you can get used to that. Voice recognition accuracy has improved enormously and the sheer weight of the companies pushing it means it’s going to get better. All the heavy lifting is done in the Cloud where unlimited processing power means huge improvements for the end user. So the kit gets better without continual local hardware upgrades. I’m a convert.  Doing the same thing on my phone left me cold. Voice is more natural and it works.

None of this matters a jot of course if the lighting itself is dull. Lighting control on its own cannot make dull lighting better. Actually lighting control tied to a dull lighting scheme provokes a really hostile response from homeowners. All they see is something more complicated than a light switch which seems to produce poor results. In those circumstances it’s rarely the poor lighting that cops for the blame. It’s almost always the lighting control which unfairly ends up in the firing line. A lighting control system should be a gateway to great lighting and if it’s not then you really should concentrate on getting the lighting right first.

If this has piqued your interest, what should you do about it? If you’ve got a HomeWorks system the good news is that you can give it a try and you don’t need a lot of hardware or a lot of programming. Getting a Lutron system under voice control using Alexa needs a Lutron Connect Bridge and an Amazon Echo or Echo dot. All the setup is done in the apps; all the communication between the two is done in the Cloud. You might need some dealer help in setting up the Connect Bridge but it’s not a major enterprise.

Voice control over lighting isn’t exclusive to Lutron of course. The other lighting control system offerings all have their cloud platforms and integration points. The DIY offerings like Philips Hue and LIFX were there even earlier. They had their skills enabled in Amazon’s store from the off in the UK. While it’s not a sector of the market we’re involved with it’s a low cost entry point and it can be great fun. Whisper it quietly but our 13 year old is fitting out his new teenage bedroom with some Hue – and yes, there will be voice control in there. So there are a number of entry points. What should you be looking out for?  Here’s three tips for getting the best out of voice technology and lighting control.

Make sure you’ve got a robust network

Don’t skimp on your network. Remember where all the heavy work is being done and make sure you’ve got robust communications on both your internal and external network. Investing in a good domestic network is increasingly important for all manner of reasons and this is just another one.

Don’t forget where the magic of a good lighting scheme really happens

If you’re lighting isn’t interesting, talking to it won’t make it more so. It might add utility. It will definitely add novelty but it won’t add magic. Using great quality fittings, specified right, in the right location is what makes magical lighting. That’s why we so strongly believe that getting lighting design right should be the priority. Voice control might then make it more magical still.

Proceed with caution

What? Isn’t this the future? Well, yes it might well be but it’s a rapidly evolving future. The whole control landscape is shifting rapidly right now and you don’t want to end up backing the wrong horse. Take small steps, make small investments and enjoy it.

Want to know more. Give us a call. We’re intrigued about voice.  We don’t have any commercial bias one way or the other apart from believing in great lighting and this might be another way to enjoy it.

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