Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
For those who aren’t aware, ABB is one of the largest engineering companies in the world, and are considered global leaders in the fields of power and automation.
At the recent IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin they unveiled a voice-activated home automation system to accompany their year-old “Free@Home” smart home offering. The company claims it’s one of the most advanced voice-activated systems in the world.
We take a look at what it is and what it can do for you.
What is Free@Home?
Free@Home was launched last year and was the company’s attempt to bring their automation expertise to the mainstream consumer market.
The system is designed to be able to control all aspects of a modern smart home, from the blinds to the lighting and from the central heating to the security system. It can be operated from a web interface, a smartphone/tablet app, or wall-mounted units, and gives owners the ability to control their home from anywhere in the world.
It also makes use of “scenes”; users can pre-program different ambiances into their system, allowing them to change the entire feel of a room at the press of a button.
The only drawback of the system is that it requires an electrician or wholesaler to install it. It is not designed for DIY usage in the same way as SmartThings projects are.
Why is Voice Activated Home Automation So Special?
ABB’s latest addition to the system – voice-activated home automation – allows consumers to use voice commands to control more than 60 home automation functions in their houses. Although voice-activation in itself is not a new concept, it is the built-in intelligence of the ABB offering that led it to be dubbed as “world’s most advanced” system by reviewers.
The firm has used a hybrid voice recognition solution that has the ability to understand both grammar-based speech and a statistical speech. In practice, this means you can both issue commands to it and speak to it as if it were a normal person – phrases like “bedroom lights on” and “could you please turn my bedroom lights on” would both have the desired effect.
Furthermore, the system does not need to be trained – instead, it will adapt its understanding of your commands based on the words entered into the parent Free@Home system. For example, you could enter “John’s Office”, “Rachael’s Bedroom”, and “Upstairs Zone” into Free@Home, and the system itself will take care of the rest.
The combination of grammar-based speech and named rooms means you can ask it yes/no questions such as “Is the back door closed?”, “Are the curtains open in my bedroom?”, and “Is the central heating set to come on later?”.
The product will now also understand “If… Then…” logic. This is more useful than it first appears; imagine being able to leave your home and say, “If I’m not home by 6pm then turn on the outside security lights”, or “If it gets hotter than 25 degrees then turn on the air conditioning” as you walk out the door.
Finally, the system includes voice-based responses so that you know your request has been actioned. For example, if you tell it to turn of the upstairs lights, you’ll hear “Upstairs lights are off” once it’s done.
Speaking at the unveiling during the IFA event, ABB manager Axel Kaiser said the following:
“Our aim is to make home automation easier than ever … We continue to add functionality and our latest voice activation provides even more comfort and convenience for users. Coming home after dark, you can just command: ‘turn the hall lights on’ and lights are activated, or as you leave your house you can call: ‘switch all lights off’ and it’s done.”
What Alternatives Do You Have?
In some ways Control4 is a more complete smart home offering than Free@Home. It has been designed to integrate with a number of well-known brands such as Sonos, Nest, and Roku, and works on the basis of “themes” throughout your day.
For example, at 7am during the work week you could program your coffee machine to start, your thermostat to increase to 20 degrees, and your favorite songs to play around your home. Alternatively you could program a “night” theme that’ll will turn off all the lights, kill the thermostat, and arm the alarm when you get into bed.
Like Free@Home, it includes voice control – though the system isn’t as intelligent. It will also issue spoken messages for alerts and announcements, and you can even ask it to give you vocal reminders!
The controller will set you back $700 USD on their online store.
We’ve covered SmartThings projects in great detail on MakeUseOf, and we’re big fans of what it can offer the average home user.
Its biggest advantage is the price – the hub is only $99 USD, making it significantly cheaper than some of the more deluxe brands on the market.
The system works by connecting sensors (such as wall plugs and motion detectors) to the central hub, and those sensors are then controlled by a smartphone app. A typical sensor costs between $30 and $60 USD.
Which System Do You Use?
Which smart home automation system do you currently use?
If you’re not using any, does the arrival into the market of one of the world’s most recognizable automation brands make you consider investing?
Perhaps you currently use a cheaper system and the new voice automation has made you wonder about upgrading? What questions do you have for us?
As ever, leave your stories, thoughts, and feedback in the comments section below.