What is a Smart Home Assistant?

What is a Smart Home Assistant

Pull away from the circuits and codes. Knowledge of that abstract coding is handy, especially if you enjoy following developments in artificial intelligence, but too much conceptual thinking can cause headaches. So pull your focus away from all of this talk about software architecture. Instead, let’s strip things back by assuming a clutter-free stance. At heart, a Smart Home Assistant (An SHA, for short or smart speaker) is, to use a colorful term, the Genie in the lamp. Alexa is one of these wish-fulfilling entities, as is the Google Assistant interface. As for the Genie’s bottle, that’s the electronic housing that contains the program. In other words, Alexa and her synthetic bot friends probably don’t rate a personal pronoun. Siri isn’t a “She,” nor is Alexa, Cortana, or Google Assistant. They’re computer constructs that mimic a cognitive entity, so each “It” listens to your voice, uses internal and external translating services to understand your naturally spoken request, and then generates a response.

Smart Speakers and Family Membership!

Therein lies the crux of the matter, as they say. It’s your requests and your family’s voiced commands that are processed by the AI processing engine, so what can your compact bot do for you today? A typical passive response is voiced, courtesy of the natural language speech algorithms. It’s a couple of sentences drawn from the internet. Recipes and practical tasks are next on the product agenda. Try asking Amazon Echo or another Alexa-equipped device a maths question to see her brain in action. And, yes, we’re sticking with the personal pronouns; it’s hard not to think of an AI as just another member of the family after she’s been living with you for a few weeks. Other practical applications include spoken language translations, of course, and a local weather forecast.

Smart Speakers and Music

If the brain of a voice-triggered assistant can be likened to a Star Trek computer or a Jarvis-style intelligence, then what is its physical self all about? That’s one of the simpler questions to answer. They’re wireless speakers. The AI body may be tall and slender, or it could be squat and stylish, but it most likely is a powerful speaker. So the next action set is relatively easy to discern, right? AI bots are entertainers. They answer questions and carry conversations, then their brains take a rest while streaming music is faithfully rendered in crisp detail by a body-girdling speaker. Fun entertainment options include all of the popular options you’d expect, so tune into TuneIn, Pandora, Spotify, and any provided manufacturer service to enjoy a break from your daily grind. In case you were wondering, the manufacturer services are keyed to the corporate brand, so consider your allegiance for your Google Music or Amazon Prime Music account if you’re planning on purchasing a virtual assistant based on its musical talents.

Casting to a Smart Speaker

The multimedia gifts stored within an AI Genie’s housings aren’t limited to a powerful but undeniably small Bluetooth speaker, though. The media streams can be “cast” to a compatible device, perhaps the living room television or a family room stereo system. You ask for the service, the music switches to the connected device, and a seamless multi-room multimedia setup springs to life. Suddenly the lone kitchen smart speaker concept doesn’t seem so isolated anymore, not when its standalone body is busily accessing electronic appliances all over the home. Additionally, there are other members of the AI ecosystem that reinforce this far-reaching wireless connectivity platform. Owners of Amazon’s Fire TV have access to Alexa, so system synergy is practically guaranteed from the family kitchen to the living room HDTV. The Google Home virtual assistant isn’t left out in the cold, though, not when the Chromecast family picks up the slack. Casting devices integrate smoothly into Google’s voice initiated network, plus there are a number of Android-powered TVs that welcome this natural language connection.

Organizing your day with a smart home assistant

All of the features covered in the previous passage cover entertainment-specific skills, but there’s a flipside to this operational coin. On that flip side, calendar appointments are voiced and memorised by the AI so that you can plan your day. If you need a ride to the airport, simply call an Uber through your ever-present AI bot. Other map biased actions include those that mobile users are already familiar with, including the capacity to ask for the location of a local restaurant, a list of local and route-based traffic conditions, and a slew of other services. Again, the internet is the primary resource here, one that’s already firmly coupled to the mobile market via thousands of productivity Apps. Your companionable voice assistant just sports a different user interface when it accesses those same knowledge banks. Basically, you’re making the move to a hands-free system, although all of the devices you’re learning about do include the choice to switch over to a touch controller, an inconspicuous pad that’s built into a small illuminated panel, perhaps. That’s certainly the case when you reach for the tactile controls on the Amazon Echo unibody. Google Home, a slightly smaller gadget, adds touch controls to a minimalism-inspired casing, plus there’s four colour changing LEDs mounted on top of the smart unit. These illuminate in different patterns to create visual cues. Designed to clearly indicate status changes, the coloured lights pulse and spin in patterned sequences, so be sure to keep a printout of the patterns nearby in case some perplexing issue crops up.

Smart speaker podcasts and audiobooks

Each mainstream virtual valet is ensconced in its own attractive body. The wireless innards follow this convention, as do the brains, the Bluetooth speaker, and the microphone array. Music, all kinds of streamed music, pours dynamically from the modest frames. That’s a generalised statement, though, especially since your musical tastes may lean towards the spoken word. All wireless speakers play podcasts and news radio stations with equal assurance, although Amazon Alexa devices have an edge where audiobooks are concerned. Taking their cue from the iconic Kindle range, Alexa can read audiobooks, pause at a chosen point, and pick up later at that same playback position. This intelligent feature is integrated into the Alexa framework via Whispersync technology, a proprietary software protocol that always keeps your place, no matter how many books you’re reading or listening to at any one time.

Smart home assistant Multi-room audio capabilities

Top-of-the-line reference sound systems have trouble with multiroom audio. There are speakers everywhere and a nest of cables looping around the furniture. It’s an ugly mess, yet even this mess can be remedied by placing the cable runs behind the walls. Bluetooth speakers have a different solution up their virtual sleeves. First of all, smart speakers are relatively inexpensive. You can buy several, hook them up wirelessly, and make the music travel with you as you leave one room and enter the next. We’re referring to wireless distributed listening, a feature that imbues your multiroomed property with incredible fidelity, as delivered by multiple devices. Next, and this feature applies to Alexa-equipped products, the onboard speaker processor uses Echo Spatial Perception magic to ensure the Amazon Echo closest to you is the only one that “listens” to your request. Either way, whichever virtual assistant you use for your multiroom setup, there are plenty of options. Multiple Amazon Echos automatically pair to each other as new units are added to the user account. Google Home, on the other hand, uses multiple Chromecasts to facilitate the same room multiplying listening experience. Interestingly, this product incorporation strategy works in both directions. Alexa and Google assistant are spreading outward to encompass every room in your home, but that momentum is reversing direction, with Alexa entering the premium-grade innards of multiroom systems, including Denon’s HEOS and Sonos wireless audio platforms.

Smart home assistants and your smart home!

The Smart Home integrates into an artificial intelligence’s environs as seamlessly as any of the other household appliances and products you’ve read about. Used as a crude intruder warning system, a combination smart speaker alarm and timer will pair with a Phillips Hue Starter Kit to turn household lights ON and then OFF. They dim, change colour, generate mood lighting, and sync to the beat of your music. Typically, a bridging Hub base is required to interface the two discrete systems, but this task is relatively intuitive and soon finished. Otherwise, certain virtual assistants, including Alexa, are equipped with special skill APIs that hammer Smart functions straight into the smart bot’s digital brain. As for Google Home, there’s the mature Nest hardware frame. Finally, even Apple is investing its deep pockets into this fafirly new home automation field by adding a protocol called ‘HomeKit’ to their mobile platform. HomeKit acts as a hardware and software bridge that controls your home. Again, as with Nest and all of the other main players in this game, the accessories are built to work with a specific design companies’ platform protocols, so beware of compatibility issues when you build your own Smart Home.

Hey smart home speaker, that’s a wrap

If an A.I. is a genie, then the dense package of electronics she lives inside is a magic lamp. Capable of directly controlling a Smart Home, your computerised Genie uses Hubs and downloaded Skills to learn how to manage your home’s Smart accessories. The Hubs work in the language of a Phillips Hue, a Samsung SmartThings or Homekit Hub. Alexa is the controlling interface that binds these discrete parts together, though, just as Google Home accomplishes the same communications magic with the Nest platform.

Away from the Internet of Things (IoT), smart speakers wirelessly stream music from hundreds of online services. Between music and podcast listening sessions, that same multitasking assistant answers questions, it holds sustained conversations, and it works as a productive member of the family. That last statement pushes her services more towards an office or general business-related application base. Timers and alarms, traffic information, and personalized calendars, all of these tasks are part of a hard-working digital assistants’ existence. Meanwhile, somewhere between the maths questions and search engine results, the rest of the family is calling your AI to read out a yummy recipe or read a child’s favorite audiobook.

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ICT professional, author, serial Internet entrepreneur, investor, and of course, a smart home enthusiast!

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