In what was positioned almost like a very high end commercial, Dave Limp talks about solving problems during times of uncertainty during Amazon’s new product and services announcements today. Apparently while in these times of uncertainty, Amazon has been building and inventing, well everything. Devices fading into the background, security and privacy, AI, robots (yes robots), health, living in place and so much more were talked about in what I think was probably one of the best online presentations I’ve ever seen. All these things are the things integrators like myself have dreamed of seeing, albeit not from our typical industry partners. The only thing missing from this presentation was Captain Kirk (William Shatner) himself talking about Amazon technology, since he will be the oldest person to go to space on Amazon’s same day delivery rocket.
This whole show started off with an ear-catching term from the beginning. Limp tells us about “ambient intelligence.” Yes, this is AI (artificial intelligence), but positioned differently. It is explained “farther than a single device or service.” What this means inside and outside of the “Amazon Holdings Catalog” is that devices will be able to interoperate and learn from each other and co-mingle with the services that can enhance them. Amazon goes on further to explain throughout the presentation that this isn’t just machine learning, but also customer (and integrator most likely) programming, set up and preferences. This technology lets end users teach Alexa and Amazon for that matter things like personal taste, favorites and lifestyle. This is an acceptable “fix” to something I have feared; I need the ability to override or program around habits that I would like left out of the equation. Although Amazon didn’t position it this way, by user and engineer review, I’m sure they saw this coming. Positioning custom AI in a way to play nice with the “shift in customer interaction with technology” is a brilliant move that many companies in the custom interaction space need to take note of. I think Amazon was completely holding class for other smart home companies when they named this tech “Teachable AI.”
One of the big “misses” with Echo Alexa products since the beginning has been the security concern with voice processing happening in the Cloud. While I haven’t been as concerned as many by this, and it being one of the reasons the company Josh.ai has been able to claim superiority over Alexa, local or at least hybrid voice processing has always been something I have wanted. Today Amazon announced that with their new processor (already inside the 10-in. Echo Show and the new Echo Dot) you can enable local voice processing. I can see this going hybrid very soon as I am sure it is on their radar with further announcement of “EDGE” I’ll get to Edge further in this article, but think of it as the mix of Cloud and local – what some of us call the “Fog.”
Another thing that has always bothered me in the custom integration industry was the use of thermostats. The term “smart thermostat” was a term that has lived long before they ever had any actual “smarts.” And don’t get me started on the overused term “learning thermostat.” Most thermostats offered by our automation companies are typically ugly, but they do expect us to remotely locate them and use remote temp sensors and an OEM touchscreen as the UI. But over the years with experience with them, Nest, EcoBee, Lyric, etc., I have wondered why even integrate these into the larger ecosystem of home automation? Certain devices (yard irrigation being the one I am the most adamant about) don’t need the level of “micro control” that devices in the audio/video world need. For irrigation, you just need to know: does my plant/grass need to be watered, how much does it need based on environmental factors, is weather going to require me to water less or more, and am I saving valuable resources? For HVAC it should be no different. Am I hot or cold? Do I need to be hot or cold? Where do I need this most? Do I ever want to touch a thermostat again? So Amazon is releasing their very own thermostat (Amazon Smart Thermostat ) and it’s actually kinda nice looking. In a partnership with Honeywell – the makers of Lyric and the Control4 thermostat and in the heat cool business for 130 years – Amazon is really onto something here. Amazon says that customers can control the Amazon Smart Thermostat using a compatible Alexa-enabled device or even have Alexa do the programming for them with Hunches. When Alexa has a “hunch” that you’re away from home or have gone to bed for the night, the temperature will adjust to help you save energy.
What does this mean for integrators that know how to do some Alexa/Control System programming? Simply pack it in a “Routine” with other automation devices. Amazon says “Our aim is to create experiences that use AI to help customers live more sustainably without even having to think about it.” This goes right back to my irrigation statement. And did I mention it’s only 60 bucks? What have we been paying for all this time?