All I Want for Christmas is a Custom Installed VUI

Ed Wenck
Dec 02, 2016

It seems there’s always been something of a weird, cautious-yet-symbiotic relationship between members of the CEDIA channel and the early-adopting DIY crowd — kind of like early man and the ancient wolf, trading food for security. Before canines became domesticated, there was always the chance that proto-doggie could bite.

Remember: CEDIA was born out of the brains of a bunch of “DIY” peeps (although we used way fewer acronyms back then) who took their love of the latest tech and figured out how to monetize it. (Look above for a shot from CEDIA Show Numero Uno.) Ask CEDIA vets like Ken Erdmann — distributed audio began as hard-wired, modified car speakers in the home — and by the mid-2010s became a market segment whose price tag for a single high-end install averages close to 20K. (Check this preview of the CEDIA Size and Scope report for more.)

But the explosion of wireless technology — coupled with better Wi-Fi delivery systems – means that do-it-yourself becomes a mite easier for anyone who’s terrified of plunging a sheetrock saw into their walls.

As the tech gets smarter (no, really, that’s not a buzzword — we’re talking real machine learning), the DIY-ers need be less and less proficient. It’s something that’s even alarmed industry expert Julie Jacobson in a piece back in September at CE Pro. Jacobson followed up with a companion piece about the nimbleness needed in the channel — and how to shift the business model to reflect what the consumer desires.

Add to all of this the appearance of Amazon at CEDIA 2016 — complete with Charlie Kindel delivering a Friday-morning keynote. As the CEDIA Tech Council predicted, more companies like Amazon are interested in finding out what the CEDIA customer wants.

Why? Well, like the first human that had the idea to trade a bone for a bark, the channel paves the way.

Which leads us to the Big Development that can give one DIY-fear: Proper voice control systems.

The Next Interface

Amongst the doorbells and thermostats and cameras, Amazon and Google introduced devices that can be spoken to — and then perform a task accurately. These devices are well beyond the “frustration threshold” consumers demand — that number’s right around 98% when it comes to accurate word recognition. Anything lower, and you hear the inevitable “Siri sucks” complaint.

While Alexa begins turning up as a workable interface in Crestron, Control4, and Josh.ai products and installations, the latter’s Alex Capecelatro is already giving talks on moving from VUI to a “NOUI” universe, where gesture and the human voice combine for a seamless experience. (More on that in a moment.)

And while all of this is happening around him, Capecelatro is bullish on the channel: “There will always be a place for custom installations. We do, however, have to be nimble and adjust our business model with the long-term trends we see in the market. With segments that have developed like DIFM (do it for me) and DIWM (do it with me), we see new requirements in the way we do business. New requirements open up new opportunities.”

Capecelatro is a realist, though: “The DIY concern is 100% valid when you consider the motivations behind companies like Amazon. For them to make money, Alexa needs to work with devices that Amazon sells. These devices are mostly DIY. The big companies are interested in selling tens of millions of units, anything less would be a loss.”

“Just as one would have a suit custom-tailored for a perfect fit, we guide our clients through these control options so we can create a custom solution for their control needs.”

For another take on the role of the channel — especially when it comes to user interfaces — we reached out to cyberManor’s Gordon van Zuiden (who’s also a member of the CEDIA Tech Council — along with the aforementioned Jacobson and Capecelatro). He immediately referred us to an article in the November 2017 edition of Residential Systems titled “Frictionless Home Design.” Simply put, the role of the integrator is to take all of this technology and figure out what fits the situation properly: “Just as one would have a suit custom-tailored for a perfect fit, we guide our clients through these control options so we can create a custom solution for their control needs.”

The simplest example: You don’t want to tell your device “Lower the lights” when someone’s already sleeping. Take that illustration and begin to think about all the complexities involved in the functions performed by even a modest smart home, and you begin to understand just how impactful that “custom tailoring” can be.

Moreover, there are still a few pretty big gaps in voice control solutions. What’s to keep the kids from ordering an R-rated movie?

Capecelatro says we’re close:

“First, without even considering the UI, a user system needs to be set up and configured so the kid doesn't have access to ordering an R movie. Once you have that, the voice UI is just a layer on top and you need some way to authenticate who's speaking. This is done via speaker recognition and it's pretty close to prime time. In the meantime, adding voice passwords is a solid way to get around the technical hurdle at times. In terms of how close, I would say within 12-24 months since most of the technology is already well understood and implementations have already begun.”

The Next Revenue Stream(s)

At a recent CEDIA Boot Camp, instructor Ken Erdmann gave an anecdote: He’s loaded his parents’ home with aging-in-place tech that matches their comfort level. He’s put a sensor on the cabinet where the prescriptions live so he gets a text when the door’s been opened — he’s even placed a touch sensor under the carpet next to his Pop’s side of the bed. This way he knows Dad is up and has at least opened up the door to the meds. (Erdmann gets a text.)

So why not a camera? Because his dad would have none of it, that’s why.

That example illustrates van Zuiden’s point: The DIY universe often has a lot of one-size-fits-all solutions, and an experienced integrator knows that every home and client are utterly unique. What’s more, the aging-in-place solutions that are being introduced not only will need a custom installation by a pro (odds are good that Grandma might not be as tech-savvy as Mr. van Zuiden), they’ll need constant monitoring.

There’s that old acronym again: RMR. Recurring monthly revenue exists as a potential moneymaker — the channel, by all accounts, just needs to better understand how to communicate those options to the consumer as not a luxury, but a need. Virtual security (as opposed to the physical security products like cameras and glass-break sensors), troubleshooting, and the bugaboo of interoperability (or a lack thereof) still demand resources.

And as the world was made painfully aware back in October, those aforementioned virtual security issues can impact the entire internet. A DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack left sites like Twitter and Netflix dark for much of the country. The culprits? Hackers had commandeered cheap cameras with laughably simple default passwords to flood servers with data, overwhelming popular platforms.

As VUI becomes “NOUI,” as in “No User Interface,” small cameras are one of the things that will become ubiquitous. NOUI — kind of a misnomer, really, since it’s actually an invisible/intuitive UI — will rely on a combination of voice, gesture, and even sensorization the likes of which we’ve not seen before. Capecelatro contends that voice-control isn’t any more “hackable” than any other technology — but in order to convince a client that being on-mic and on-camera 24/7 is worth the risk, the integrator will need to make doubly sure he or she is constantly updating ways to minimize said risk.

The payoff at the end is the finest “custom suit” van Zuiden can imagine. As Capecelatro puts it: “One of the whole points of voice is that it is a natural interface that shouldn’t need training. It seems today, unfortunately, training is often necessary. We ask our customers to speak naturally and if the system doesn't work appropriately, it will learn and get smarter. As a result, they can command the home in whatever way is most natural, rather than having to speak in a very robotic way.”



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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