NEEP's listening for new energy efficiency innovations

In the home automation space, innovations are abundant. Cool new gadgets and gizmos that simplify your life, provide an increased sense of security, and - as if an afterthought - help you save energy are popping up everywhere. While NEEP and other efficiency stakeholders have used the phrase Home Energy Management System (HEMS) to talk about products that can save energy within these ecosystems, customers are - for the most part - purchasing these devices, software, and systems for other reasons.

One of the most up-and-coming innovative sectors that initially seemed unrelated to energy efficiency is the expanding world of voice recognition devices. Inspired by the 2015 product the Amazon Echo, smart home corporations like Apple and Google are jumping into the voice recognition trend, begging the question—is this the next smart home frontier? And if so, what role can efficiency play?

There are many smart home products available on the market today. NEEP maintains a list of several hundred products, ranging from color tunable lightbulbs controlled by an app to load-monitoring hardware that pinpoints and communicates energy use in a home. Each system or device has a user interface (UI)—a way for a user to establish their preferences, make adjustments, or watch their system work. In most cases, these user interfaces are either an online portal or a smart phone app.

While many developers have worked to come up with the “Killer App” interface that would be the one-stop-shop for all of your smart home devices (and interface directly with your utility bill and smart meter data, while you’re at it), that dream is not yet a reality. And while innovators and early adopters may be willing to sit through the clunky process of logging into each account, switching between apps, toggling options back and forth to establish scenes and set up preferences, mainstream users don’t feel the same and the appeal of these UI interfaces starts to wane. Until now…

Imagine this

You walk into your home outfitted with the latest and greatest smart home technologies. You voice the following command: “I would like to set up the scene ‘Welcome Home’. Please turn on hallway lights to 50% brightness, begin to play Hall & Oates, set thermostat to 72, and turn on the electric water kettle.” What used to take four interfaces and multiple toggles and selections now can be done in one sentence.

It’s easy to imagine the average consumer remembering to repeat “Welcome Home” upon entry and getting his or her home set up based on preferences it remembers. It’s a lot harder to imagine someone juggling between applications each time he or she comes home. It’s more likely for those consumers to revert to old-school trends and use the light switch or press play on the stereo. With voice recognition, however, one of the biggest concerns for energy efficiency might be solved—that of persistence.

If you ask anyone in the home energy management space (and I’ve asked most of them), the biggest oddball trend they’ll mention is that of voice recognition devices. Those who have them LOVE them, and those without them, such as myself, have a fascination with them. And while Amazon has been in this space for over a year, Apple with its Homekit and Google with Home both have plans to jump in with their Siri and Assistant lines, respectively.

Could stand alone voice recognition controls be that “Killer App” and help pave the pathway to realizing the elusive smart (efficient) home? If so, I’m listening…

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