Craig DiLouie recently interviewed Greg Rhoades, Director of Marketing for Leviton Energy Management Controls & Automation, about voice-controlled lighting for articles for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and tED.
DiLouie: How would you describe voice-activated lighting?
Rhoades: Until recently, controlling smart lighting in the home boiled down to basic apps and automation. For example, you schedule a lamp to turn on at sunset or you use your phone to turn a lamp off after you’ve climbed into bed. But now, technology advancements have allowed us to control our lights through voice command. Quick, easy and familiar.
Recent technological advancements in speech recognition have made a voice-controlled smart home completely attainable and affordable with many of the gadgets that promise to get the job done already available including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit.
DiLouie: What are the benefits of voice-activated lighting? Q3. What are typical applications?
Rhoades: Smart lighting, and more specifically, voice control provides consumers with a way to create a more safe, convenient and comfortable home.
The “cool” factor of smart lighting and voice control has recently created more of a demand from consumers, because at the end of the day, smart lighting is a trending solution that can increase consumers’ interactions with their home along with the home’s value.
No other voice controlled device, besides lighting, is immediately noticed by all parties. “Alexa, turn lights to 25%” sets the mood not later, but now.
A good example of the benefits and applications of voice control lighting is walking in the front door of your home at night with a full load of groceries in both hands. Instead of trying to feel and fumble for light switches, you can simply ask Alexa, Google or Siri to turn the lights on for you so as not to trip and fall or spill your items.
DiLouie: What are the options for voice-activated lighting? Generally, what solutions operate with voice as a primary control method or control option?
Rhoades: In order to have voice control over your lights, you will most likely need a voice assistant device like that of Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit, a wi-fi connection, a downloadable smart device app and of course, a compatible lighting control. See below answer from Q5 for how Leviton’s solutions work with voice functionality.
DiLouie: How do voice-enabled services such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Homekit work? How are they similar and different in functionality?
Rhoades: For Leviton, consumers simply need to acquire Leviton Decora Smart lighting controls and the device they are compatible with such as an Amazon Echo device (Tap, Echo, Fire TV, or Dot), Google Assistant device or Apple device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod) to achieve the awesome capabilities of voice control.
The Decora Smart with Wi-Fi Technology switches, dimmers and plug-in modules provide hubless, time-based schedules, free remote control from anywhere, and optional integrated voice control via the My Leviton app. The voice control compatibility works via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. An example of a voice command would be “Ok Google, Turn Chandelier to 10%.” Most recently, this customizable solution now includes new enhancements easily accessible via firmware and app updates, including IFTTT integration (If this, then that), which triggers automation activity based on events in your home using third-party devices and Leviton Decora Smart with Wi-Fi devices.
The Decora Smart with HomeKit Technology allows for customizable lighting control using an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple Watch or Siri. This family of products features three devices including 600 Watt and 1000 Watt in-wall dimmers, as well as a 15 Amp switch with multi-way capability. These dimmers and switches are all wireless and individually HomeKit-enabled, requiring no centralized hub or bridge to coordinate the accessories throughout the home. To use the voice control function with this solution, use Siri® on your iPhone or iPad to turn lights on/off or dim with just your voice. An example of a command would be “Siri, turn all lights on.”
As mentioned, the Decora Smart family of products features in-wall dimmers, a switch, and plug-in modules for appliances and lamps, supporting a wide range of load types including LED and incandescent with multi-way capability.
DiLouie: Based on current and projected penetration of these services, how big is this market?
Rhoades: The market potential is unbelievable. Voice controls, now that they’re sprinkled throughout all of our homes, purses and pockets, are driving unparalleled demand for third-party services and products, especially smart home.
With the big players launching new devices in late 2017/early 2018, along with companies embedding those voice services into their own products, the opportunities are endless right now. Whole home voice is real, it’s here and it’s affordable.
DiLouie: How does using these services for home automation compare to installing a dedicated home automation system?
Rhoades: To be frank, voice control alone is not a substitute for a fully automated home that anticipates your needs, runs on set schedules and provides access from anywhere. It’s a feature right now. However, the gap is getting closer over time, with whole house audio now in Amazon Echo, with Google Assistant deciphering voices and recognizing individuals and with more things talking to one another natively. We’ll soon see a parity, I believe. These massive service providers are learning more and getting smarter, adding new features, including groups to create automation schemes, and people are beginning to build complete eco-systems around them.
DiLouie: How do smart lighting products integrate with these services? Are they able to operate independently as a system through a manufacturer app as well as through voice assistants like Alexa, Google, Homekit?
Rhoades: The best example of this is our Decora Smart with Wi-Fi Technology. All you have to do is install the Decora Smart lighting control solution and connect it to the My Leviton app. From there, open the Google Assistant app or Amazon Alexa app and follow instructions to connect to the Decora Smart solution. It’s that easy! Yes, you can use voice or utilize the free app to control from anywhere, to create lighting scenes and to institute schedules for time-based automation. As well, the app provides custom features for our electrical contractors – adjust the fade rates, min/max brightness levels, preset light levels, bulb type, LED interaction (on the device itself), even auto-shutoff times (this is great for kids’ bedrooms and closets).
DiLouie: What opportunities exist for electrical contractors in this market segment? What do they need to do and know to install and sell these products?
Rhoades: Electrical contractors should consider that these new smart lighting products and solutions, specifically with voice control capabilities, are giving homeowners more added value than ever before. Thus, it’s important for contractors to make homeowners aware of what’s available in the marketplace and explain to them the value of having various solutions installed in their home at such an attainable cost and with such simplistic functionality. It’s no longer scary for installers – pull out the existing light switch, drop the Leviton smart switch in, then use the app to connect everything with step-by-step instructions. The important tip is to educate yourself! Leviton also provides how-to video tutorials, a quick start guide in the app itself and excellent technical service via phone, email or live chat.
DiLouie: What are common pitfalls in designing this system, and how can electrical contractors and distributors mitigate them to get the best results for their customers?
Rhoades: A lot of people think a smart switch is too different for them to understand and offer their customers. It’s not, other than the brains that live inside. So, get over the first hurdle and install one on your own front porch light as a test.
The best advice I have comes from jazzman Charlie Parker, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Meaning: Live with it, swap out your kitchen dimmer, add a plug-in to your living room lamp. Use Alexa in your own home or office. The goal is to become familiar enough to be dangerous.
There’s tons of educational content available, from other contractors on YouTube showing you how to install a new product, or engineering societies that offer webinars and white papers, or even the manufacturer directly with online and in-person instruction.
“Just because you can do it all, doesn’t mean you should.” Conquer one area, then expand as you are comfortable. The great thing about Leviton smart devices is that they will always work like a regular switch. If you’re not yet comfortable setting up an app – let the homeowner do it or do it together.
DiLouie: Please describe your product line in this category. What does a typical system look like?
Rhoades: A typical system has a sprinkling of devices throughout the home. Consider it a taste test where the affinity grows over time. Many homeowners will start with a few smart devices.
It’s most likely the exterior lights, and the spaces where they spend the most time inside – like the kitchen, dining room, living area, TV room, and bedroom. Then they’ll see how great life is with smart lighting, not having to worry about certain aspects of the day-to-day drudgery, and will add more – maybe not just more light switches, but door locks, cameras and thermostats. Perhaps they add a hub like Samsung SmartThings to rope everything together into one single app, if that’s their desire.
Thus, it’s important that the high-tech and low-tech (standard Decora dimmers and outlets) matches for the homeowner. They don’t want their home to look like a test lab, it should look and function just as it always has for family and guests alike. Intelligence does not mean pretentiousness. Further, choose an offering that provides color options to match every décor in an existing home, ensuring satisfaction.
DiLouie: If you could tell the electrical industry just one thing about voice-activated lighting, what would it be?
Rhoades: Don’t miss this trend. The electrical contractor is best poised to take advantage today. Learn the ins and outs, hire an apprentice if you’re cautious and install some products in your home and office to begin your education.
DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Rhoades: In addition to voice control, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the future of IFTTT (if this, then that) integration. It will be interesting to see how technologies will begin integrating and interacting in our homes and with other devices, like smart lighting products. An example of IFTTT is – if a motion is detected on a surveillance camera, then turn on Porch Light.