Voice Command Systems
Amazon’s Alexa is a prime example of the use of voice command systems, both more generally, and as applied to home automation. Compatibility with these voice command systems is now an essential requirement for any system. Hub based processing will control the operation of the in-home ZigBee and Z-Wave mesh networks, while providing this level of compatibility.
Alexa as the most popular, and obvious, example of voice command systems, so it’s impact on the home automation market needs to be taken into account.
For most people, Alexa is just a useful means of controlling their smart home, and accessing cloud services.
In providing this service, Amazon is collecting information about the Alexa compatible devices in the user’s home, and about the user’s interests.
Systems like Alexa may be the “Elephant in the Room” for home automation. Amazon, and others, such as Google, are ideally placed to take over this market with a cloud based subscription service, and they have the infrastructure in place already.
Technically, Echo, or Echo Dot, record the user’s voice command in a digitized form. This digitized audio is then sent to Amazon’s cloud servers, where it is converted into text. This text is then interpreted by the Alexa service.
If the command given to Alexa is to control a device in the home, then a text file is sent from the Amazon cloud server to the targeted device. Newer smart devices are able to receive and interpret these text commands, either directly, or via IFTTT. Some home automation systems are also able to interpret this text and forward the command to their connected devices.
“Works with Alexa” is a major selling point for any home automation device or appliance. Worldwide, more devices are Alexa compatible than those of any individual manufacturer of home automation systems.
Where does this leave existing suppliers of home automation systems?
Alexa compatible WiFi devices are already available. These devices do not need a hub, or any associated cloud based processing, apart from Alexa, and possibly IFTTT.
Suppliers of existing home automation systems need Alexa compatibility, but Amazon has little need for the existing home automation systems. Amazon is also unlikely to have any interest in supporting any of the existing home automation systems, and especially not ZigBee or Z-Wave based systems.
This puts the onus on the system supplier to make their systems Alexa compatible, including the interpretation of the Alexa commands to control individual devices. A hub will continue to be needed to support the ZigBee and Z-Wave devices, and the mesh networks on which they run still needs repeaters / routers, such as smart plugs.
In these circumstances, a self-contained system within the home is the best solution. It can control the system independently of Alexa, but can also accept commands from Alexa.