A brief history of voice-assisted smart appliance integration
“Alexa, bake me a potato.”
Sound like something from The Jetsons? Amazon’s Echo eco-system brought Alexa to the kitchen in late 2016 with the ‘Geneva’ skill, which allows the user to control a variety of GE appliances using their voice. It makes you wonder if this is what people of the 50’s thought of the future – preheating ovens, starting washing machines, checking hot water meters, and more all using voice commands.
Fast forward to May 2017, and Google let the world know that they are once again going up against Alexa with their Google Home device – but with extra horsepower. At Google’s I/O developer conference, the tech giant announced that not only would the Google Home be compatible with GE smart appliances, but also those from Whirpool and LG Electronics.
So what does this mean for consumers like us? It means that our integration with the “Internet of things” – or IoT – is already in the stages of becoming commonplace in every home. First of all, you might be wondering just what this IoT business is: in a nutshell, the IoT is the concept of connecting an electronic device to the internet. Basically this means that the IoT first started out as computers, grew to other devices like cell phones, and more recently has expanded to wearable devices and everyday appliances like fridges, lamps, and coffee makers that are all capable of communicating with each other.
What exactly can voice-assistants help these smart appliances do?
With the total number of Americans using voice-activated assistant devices like the Echo and Google Home expected to reach over 35 million by the end of 2017, it’s clear that teaming up with big appliance makers was a wise decision. Here are some examples from the Geneva app for the Amazon Alexa:
- Preheat and change temperatures
- Set specific timers
- Set temperatures and preheating times for specific dishes
- Turn on and off quickly
- Check how much time is left for a timer
- Change the temperatures of different compartments
- Make hot or chilled water
- Check if the doors are open or closed
- Check if the icemaker is full or empty
- Set timers for making hot or chilled water
- Ask when a dishwashing load will finish
- Check if dishwashing detergent is empty
- Check if laundry load is clean
- Change air conditioning heat and temperatures
- Set vacation modes for water heater
What are the benefits of voice control over manual control?
If you cook or are a busy parent, having voice control over your appliances is something that you’ll quickly come to understand as useful and may even grow to become essential in your day-to-day routine. Some examples to illustrate this point:
- You’re making a huge Thanksgiving dinner and remember you need to set the oven, but your hands are knuckle-deep in stuffing. Just call out to your voice assistant to preheat the oven for you at the temperature you specify.
- Some friends are coming for drinks later that night, you’ve just stepped out of the shower, and suddenly not sure if there’s enough ice in the freezer – check with a simple question.
- You’re watching TV on the couch after an exhausting day and want to check when the dishwasher will finish without having to get up.
- You’re sweating on a hot day, but can’t find the remote for your air conditioner – call out to your device to change the temperature and fan strength.
How safe is using a voice assistant to control household appliances?
Both the Google Home and Amazon Alexa editions of GE’s Geneva skill require you to push a physical “remote enable” button on ovens to enable voice control, and features like stovetop cooking and oven broiling aren’t accessible via voice as these are cooking methods that are potentially dangerous and require supervision.
One issue that remains, particularly in the case of Alexa, is that anyone with access to your voice assistant and understands the commands has free rein over your appliances – something that will most probably come to be password protected in the future. However, recent software updates of Google Home have introduced voice profiles that give the option of allowing or disallowing certain commands, which Amazon Alexa will also undoubtedly pick up in the near future.
As we move forward towards 2020, the IoT and smart appliances are estimated to grow past 26 billion – an eye-opening statistic that adds weight to the fact that we’re moving at breakneck pace into an almost fully automated world. What’s next? Only time will tell!