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article imageQ&A: Where is the smart home heading? Special

By Tim Sandle     Jun 16, 2018 in Technology
The smart home will soon be more than voice assistants, embracing several interaction methods relating to ambient computing (such as voice, touch, and motion control) directly into the walls of the home.
With the news that Amazon is partnering with Lennar to integrate smart home technology into new model homes, the company Brilliant is already ahead in this area.
To discover more, Digital Journal spoke with Aaron Emigh, who is CEO of Brilliant, about his company’s developments, the future of the smart home and why the next smart product will most likely be built directly into the walls of your home.
Digital Journal: What does the smart home of the future look like?
Aaron Emigh: To date, the smart home has primarily been focused on smart devices. These are essential building blocks -- without smart lighting, thermostats, locks, etc., you don’t have a very useful house. But all this focus on smart devices has come with general neglect of the smart home -- the experience of actually using the home has not kept pace with the innovation of devices.
If anything, it has gotten worse; not only have we been forced into an unnatural method of control by using our phones to control our houses, we have also experienced a corresponding proliferation of apps as we gather more devices resulting in a fragmentation of the smart home experience.
So, the future of the smart home is largely a shift from a focus on the individual devices to a focus on the overall experience of using the house -- taking these useful devices that have been introduced and then unifying the experience of using them into something far simpler and more elegant than the current experience.
This shift will involve adding screens and touch interfaces, voice control and motion, all seamlessly integrated and made available to everyone throughout the house. Over the long haul, we won’t even think about a “smart home,” because intelligence will be built directly into every home. They’ll just be better homes.
DJ: What are most likely technologies in the short term?
Emigh: We’ve already seen the first of the breakout hit products in the form of voice assistant technologies like Alexa built into various devices such as smart speakers. These have shown the tremendous demand for unifying ambient technologies, and sales will continue to grow. We’ll see incremental innovations like much better natural language processing and ways to communicate with them without wake words.
This change is all positive, and at the same time, as homeowners have used voice assistants for general home control applications, they’ve run into some limitations of voice. It’s not great for reviewing information or picking from several available options. In many cases, available capabilities are not easily discoverable, and it’s more cumbersome to give a complicated voice command than it is to perform an action with a simple touch. So naturally, we’ll see an integration of visual and touch interfaces alongside voice, enabling people to easily use the most appropriate modality for whatever they want to do.
And really, a straightforward smart home experience built into the home is making its entrance in the short term, as well. That’s what Brilliant is doing, after all.
DJ: What is the significance of the Amazon and Lennar partnership?
Emigh: The move by Lennar to partner with Amazon validates our belief that smart technology will be soon built into homes like a utility. We’ve heard a lot of feedback from developers that putting smart home technology into their show homes is compelling for potential buyers. One of the key challenges in a demo home context is how to tie together the devices into a single interface, and that is the role that Amazon’s Alexa platform plays in the context of the Lennar partnership.
DJ: Is the Amazon and Lennar partnership set to deliver on ambient computing?
Emigh: It’s an important step in the right direction because the Alexa platform is a voice-driven implementation of ambient computing. I think it will be an excellent opportunity for homeowners to gain exposure to the benefits of ambient computing. However, one of the critical aspects of true ambient technology is that it should be ubiquitously available.
Appliances like the Echo are fantastic, but they’re not necessarily the best approach to ubiquity, because you don’t want devices throughout your entire house. To achieve ubiquity, it makes the most sense to build the capabilities right into the walls. For example, with Brilliant, you can replace light switches throughout your house and get access to Alexa, as well as touch and motion-based control, throughout your whole home. I think that partnerships like Lennar/Amazon set the stage for that and that Amazon’s Alexa voice platform will continue as an important ambient capability.
DJ: What products does Brilliant provide?
Emigh: Brilliant is dedicated to simplifying the smart home experience. Our first product is a smart home control that replaces any existing light switch with voice and touch controls that control your lights, climate control, music, locks, doorbells, and whatever comes next.
Brilliant combines many capabilities into a unified experience on a panel that fits seamlessly into your wall. Because it replaces a light switch, you instantly get smart lighting capabilities as well as all the other types of home control. Amazon Alexa is built in, so you can ask for weather, news, and more without the need for an Echo. There is also video intercom, babycam/nannycam, a mobile app for remote access, the ability to personalize the display with your photos and motion art, and new features being rolled out on a regular basis.
Brilliant is made in four models, which replace a single switch, or a row of two, three, or four switches. They install just like a legacy light switch, without requiring any new wiring or drywall changes. They are available in a variety of colors and finishes. All models include dimming, motion-based control, and compatibility with standard multiway lighting circuits.
DJ: What is your strategy in terms of developing products for the smart home?
Emigh: We look at everything through the lens of how we can apply technology to simplify and elevate the experience of using your home. We see many opportunities for this because the early focus has been on device functionality rather than the overall home experience. We felt that the most significant initial gap was in the home control and the best place for it was the light switch, so that’s why we are starting where we are.
DJ: How are you marketing your products and services?
Emigh: Home products take many different paths to the consumer, especially when built into the house. So we are working with builders, custom integrators, as well as making Brilliant directly available to people looking to remodel their homes.
Beyond traditional marketing channels, most of our marketing has been done via word of mouth. 94% of people understand how to use Brilliant in less than three seconds, which is unprecedented in the smart home space, so our early customers have been great advocates for us.
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