Speaking Of Home Automation
Voice control becoming a viable option
By Marshall F. Lager
User convenience has been one of home tech's most important goals ever since Zenith introduced the first television remote control back in 1950. Before long, the TV remote became wireless, and was joined by similar models for the stereo, VCR and other home entertainment goodies. Eventually, the universal remote touchscreen was the final word in home control. Or was it? An even more effortless technology exists and is starting to gain a market foothold: Voice control.
MATURE FOR ITS AGE
Voice control is not uncharted technology; much of the work in this field has already been done on behalf of the physically challenged. Indeed, some of the products we've seen are named for their stated purpose—take the Quad Phone from Multimedia Designs, a voice-operated modem and attendant software originally designed for quadriplegics. The disability resource page Makoa (www.makoa.org, whose name is Hawaiian for "courageous") includes a list of several dozen companies worldwide whose products help the handicapped manage their homes.
While not all of these manufacturers offer voice-activated products, a considerable number do. The advances made by such companies as Home Automated Living (www.automatedliving.com), and Automated Voice Systems Inc. (www.mastervoice.com) are just as applicable to consumers seeking convenience and the "next best thing" as those who turn to them out of necessity. A smart integrator will look to the sources noted at Makoa for inspiration and instruction.
One thing to monitor when dealing with companies whose products usually wind up in the homes of the physically challenged is the price. A product that might be covered by health insurance is likely to more expensive than a general-purpose piece of electronica. Producers can't be blamed for charging what the market will bear, but integrators that are interested in deploying this technology should be aware that margins in this market aren't what they're normally used to.