Modern Australian

Smart speakers could be the tipping point for home automation

  • Written by Michael Cowling, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, CQUniversity Australia
Smart speakers could be the tipping point for home automationThere has been a resurgence in home automation with the advent of voice-activated digital assistants. Shutterstock

One of the biggest trends of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year was companies taking digital smart assistants – think Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa – and incorporating them into more and more consumer devices.

From smart light bulbs to smart toilets, it’s clear that the market sees great promise in devices you can speak to, combined with home devices you can control.

Smart speakers could be the tipping point for home automationMacSpeak, an early Computer Speech Recognition system.Via Macintosh Repository

‘Siri, define computer for me’

We’ve always been fascinated with the ability to speak to a computer.

Fifty years ago when Star Trek debuted, Gene Roddenberry envisioned an interface where you could simply speak into the air and ask the “Computer” to do something and it would respond intelligently.

Once computers shrank to fit on your desk in the 1980’s, this vision was quickly realised through software such as ViaVoice, Dragon Naturally Speaking, or MacSpeak. But due to the technology of the time, it was limited to the tasks you could complete on your computer – and to the room your computer was in.

They even made a joke about it in Star Trek IV in 1996:

Star Trek IV - Computer?

Read more: The smart home could worsen domestic abuse. But the same technology may also make us safer

This really started to change with the advent of smart phones.

When Siri was introduced in 2011, many smart phones evolved to have their own digital assistant. And because you carried your smart phone with you everywhere, the voice digital assistant finally escaped a single room. It was usable in any room of the house, and for more eclectic queries than ever before.

‘Alexa, play some rock music please’

But something was still missing from the equation. Despite the proliferation of digital assistants in devices like the Apple/Google watch, the Apple/Android TV and your personal headphones, it was still not quite Star Trek. When Captain Kirk wanted to speak to the computer, he didn’t hold a device to his ear or speak into his watch, he simply made a request into the ether and was greeted by a computerised response.

And in 2015, Amazon finally made that a reality with the Amazon Echo and the digital assistant Alexa. Through the skills interface, Alexa could do much more than previous assistants, and understood you better.

This change served to democratise the use of technology. All of a sudden, users didn’t need to worry about the interface. If you could use the right words to speak to Alexa then she could get the job done for you.

Adding things to your shopping list, or setting some kitchen timers didn’t require any knowledge of the machine and how it worked – as long as you could say “Alexa, set a 10 minute timer for the pasta”, you could use these devices.

Read more: If Google Assistant or Siri aren't smart enough for you, you can build your own AI

Amazon has doubled down on this in recent iterations, with the launch of the Echo Show which includes a screen and a “drop in” call functionality for checking on elderly relatives.

‘OK Google, turn on the porch lights and open the garage door’

Which brings us back to CES and the proliferation of smart assistants. Once you’ve achieved the ability to speak to a digital assistant from any room in the house, what’s the obvious next step?

Make the house able to listen.

There are legitimate security concerns associated with connecting devices in your house to the internet. However, since the debut of Alexa, other tech companies have got on the bandwagon.

Google launched the Google Home in 2016; Apple announced it will launch its HomePod device on February 9 (after being delayed from a December launch); and at CES even Samsung showed off new ways its Bixby digital assistant could appear in the home.

And together with the rise of digital assistants (all your devices truly are listening), home automation has also seen a resurgence.

Read more: 'Smart home' gadgets promise to cut power bills but many lie idle – or can even boost energy use

Long considered a hobbyist pursuit, only for geeks and nerds, it would appear that the arrival of smart speakers has provided the tipping point that home automation needed to truly enter the mainstream.

Rather than expecting users to use an esoteric interface on their phone to control these devices, smart speakers allow for a truly seamless experience, allowing users to control their home using natural voice commands.

Whether it’s turning on the bedroom lights, playing your favourite play list on the living room television, or just checking to make sure the front door is locked, the combination of home automation and smart speakers is providing a push forward for both technologies, as we truly move to a smart home powered by a smart digital assistant.

Google Home allows you to control lights, locks and the temperature in your house.

But most importantly, it’s good to know that if “Professor” Scotty from Star Trek were to come back 30 years later, he’d be much more impressed with our ability to speak to our devices – even if he would have to get used to saying “Ok Google” rather than “Computer”.

Michael Cowling does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Michael Cowling, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, CQUniversity Australia

Read more


what makes Jacinda Ardern an authentic leader

The qualities that have made Jacinda Ardern New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century were on display this week as she took an earthquake in her stride during...

The poorest Australians are twice as likely to die before age 75 as the richest, and the gap is widening

ShutterstockPeople living in socially disadvantaged areas and outside major cities are much more likely to die prematurely, our new research shows. The study, published in the journal Australian Population Studies...

The government says artists should be able to access JobKeeper payments. It's not that simple

Many workers in the film industry are excluded from JobKeeper.The Nightinggale/Transmission FilmsThis week, Australia’s finance minister Mathias Cormann told ABC radio he didn’t “accept [the] proposition” workers in the arts...

Why the coronavirus shouldn't stand in the way of the next wage increase

ShutterstockIn the early 1970s, when rising inflation and unemployment tore through the economy, someone coined the aphorism “one man’s wage increase is another man’s job” (unfortunately, most of the talk...

how media mythbusting can actually make false beliefs stronger

ShutterstockAs the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the world, politicians, medical experts and epidemiologists have taught us about flattening curves, contact tracing, R0 and growth factors. At the same time, we...

Why Trump's Make America Great Again hat makes a dangerous souvenir for foreign politicians

ShutterstockIt looked just like any posed political picture. The politician, in this case the National Party’s newly elected leader, Todd Muller, standing by a bookcase. So far so normal. It...

now he has an election to win and a country to save

AAP/EPA/Tracie van AukenAt age 77, in his twilight years, the third time was the charm for Joe Biden. He prevailed over a field of 24 Democrats from across the political...

If you took to growing veggies in the coronavirus pandemic, then keep it up when lockdown ends

Lynda Disher/ShutterstockThe COVID-19 pandemic produced a run on the things people need to produce their own food at home, including vegetable seedlings, seeds and chooks.This turn to self-provisioning was prompted...

public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes

ShuuterstockThe coronavirus pandemic has affected our cities in profound ways. People adapted by teleworking, shopping locally and making only necessary trips. One of the many challenges of recovery will...

P is for Pandemic: kids' books about coronavirus

NSW HealthWith remarkable speed, numerous children’s books have been published in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis, teaching children about coronavirus and encouraging them to protect themselves and others...

Australian economy must come 'out of ICU': Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison says it is vital to get the Australian economy “out of ICU” and “off the medication” of government support “before it becomes too accustomed to it”.In speech on...

Eden-Monaro byelection to be on July 4

Speaker Tony Smith has announced July 4 for the byelection in the Labor NSW seat of Eden-Monaro, which will be the first electoral test between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese.For...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

If you buy virtual currency, use a safe and secure exchangeUrban Development: Trends Shaping The Future of CitiesThree cities worth visiting in PolandUpgrade your career in beauty therapy with these short beauty courses6 Ways To Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)Top Tips for the Best Camping TripHealthy Cooking at Home - Tips & TricksMental Health and Covid-19: How Effective are Health- Supplements?Know the Best Times to Eat Protein BarsEnhancing Self Sense of HumorPlanning a wedding overseas? Keep your spending in check with these simple tipsNutri-Grain is launching 'Gold Honey Crunch', a limited-edition flavourTammy Hembrow Launches Mini Saski In Time For Mother's DayBad Cooking Habits You Must BreakTeaching Kids to Brush Their Teeth and Floss Correctly