Alexa. She’s fun and informative, providing families with current weather updates, the ability to order a pepperoni pizza without lifting a finger, and stream music from iTunes to wireless speakers in the house. A great listener and proving herself to be quite responsible, Alexa is becoming an increasingly popular voice control platform for homeowners by providing a convenient, hands-free way to operate lights, automated window treatments, A/V equipment, and more by simply speaking phrases in plain, simple English.
Home Control … in Plain English
Capitalizing on the voice control trend, in the last few months several manufacturers have introduced a rash of Alexa-enabled home electronics devices. More tech companies are expected to jump on the bandwagon, providing owners of homes, condos, and apartments with a remarkable variety of voice control options for their abodes. Given the relative novelty of voice control technology in the home, though, it’s likely that most homeowners will start off cautiously by incorporating just a few voice-enabled products then grow their voice ecosystems gradually.
Not so for the owner of this 3,000-square-foot residence in Baltimore, Md. Ready to take the plunge, he recently added Alexa to his fully automated home as a way to operate more than 100 lights, including a full-featured Lutron RadioRA 2 lighting system and 30 color-changing Philips Hue light bulbs, as well as 15 automated Sivoia QS roller shades in both sheer and blackout materials, thermostats, fountains, A/V equipment, and a pane of glass that can turn instantly from clear to opaque.
Automation for an Early Adopter
According to Jeff Nale,his project represents one of the first implementations of the voice control technology for the primary purpose of managing the electronic systems of a home, lighting systems designer at Gramophone, the Timonium, Md.-based home systems integration firm that was hired to design and install the home’s sophisticate array of electronic systems—including the Amazon Echo. “The future of voice control is here, and it landed in this house,” he says.
With the blessing of the homeowner, Gramophone leveraged the convenience and cool factor of Alexa and the reliability and functionality of the Lutron RadioRA 2 system to create a living environment that is not only easy to control and enjoy, but that accentuates the residence’s stunning high-end design elements.
Philips Hue and RadioRA 2 Bring Color to Lighting Control
Lighting, naturally, plays a critical role in setting the mood and for highlighting a home’s unique architectural features and finishes. To provide both the practical and posh attributes the homeowner requested, Gramophone outfitted the ultra-modern four-level house with a Lutron RadioRA 2 system. “At first, only a few lights were tied to the system, but once the homeowner saw the power of the RadioRA 2 system, the project evolved to include the automation and voice control of nearly every light fixture, including 30 color-changing Hue light bulbs,” Nale says. “We really pushed the limits of the RadioRA 2 system; its device limit is 200 and we integrated 167, but it’s handling the load with ease.”
One goal during the expansion of the RadioRA 2 system was to make this house look just as spectacular on the outside as it does on the inside. “The interior designer (Seth Barkman from MiY Home) told us, ‘I want people who are passing by the house on the street to say ‘what’s going on in there?’” Nale recalls. Mission accomplished: The Philips Hue light bulbs bathe any room in any color at any time, and all the homeowner has to do is say “Party” or some other key word to make it happen.
Based on the remarkable array of colorful lighting effects that were configured—a feat that garnered Gramophone the “Best Interior Lighting Design” award from the Lutron Excellence award program–this home is a visual show-stopper and the fact that the eye-candy comes to life via simple voice commands makes the setup all the more impressive. Initiated from his smartphone, a “Home” command, for example, sets the lights in the garage to a blue color and the kitchen fixtures emits a teal green.
Experience the power of seamless integration of systems, where each device is able to respond promptly and appropriately to a homeowner’s every wish.
Once inside the house, the owner can issue voice commands to any of five Amazon Echo Dot devices, or tap a few buttons on any of 17 Lutron seeTouch keypads or nine iPads that were strategically located throughout the residence in order to adjust the settings of any of dozens of electronic devices. Specially configured lighting scenes, including Entertain, Morning, Big Party, and Small Party are available, each configure to engage a pre-defined color palette of lights. Other button presses and voice commands were created by Gramophone to accentuate special pieces of artwork, prep a home theater for a movie presentation, and even showcase a rack of A/V and home control equipment.
A Trifecta of Top-Notch Technology
The RadioRA 2 system is responsible for the automation of the home’s lights, shades, and thermostats, as they respond to the commands issued via Lutron keypads, Pico remotes, and the RA 2’s built-in astronomical timeclock. Depending on the time of day, the shades open and close and the lights turn on and off to predefined positions and settings automatically.
To add voice to the list of control capabilities required Gramophone’s engineering expertise and the help of a Crestron home automation system. At the time that the project was coming together, RadioRA 2 was not yet Alexa-compliant (Lutron has since added Alexa-based control to its RadioRA 2 and HomeWorks QS systems; Caséta Wireless also integrates with Alexa). Crestron systems were ready to handle Alexa, so the Crestron CP3 was integrated for the sole purpose of picking up voice commands and translating them into digital signals that the RadioRA 2 processor could understand and carry out.
A Savant system ties the whole operation together, adding the control of A/V equipment, electronic door locks, a patio misting system, and other smart devices to the mix—and turns the owner’s iPads and iPhones into control devices. “The homeowner is a huge Mac fan, so having a Mac-compatible system like Savant was important to him,” says Nale. “It also met his demand of being able to control his house in ‘every way possible.’” Lutron keypads and Pico remotes, Savant handheld remotes, and app-enabled iPads and iPhones, and Crestron-enabled voice control … “We put in 10 pounds of technology into a 5 pound sack for this project,” Nale adds.
Voice Control and Smart Systems Create Unique Living Environment
The result of Lutron, Crestron, and Savant, and newcomer Alexa working together may have been a challenging engineering endeavor for Gramophone, but the end result reveals the true power of seamless integration of systems, where each and every smart device is able to respond promptly and appropriately to a homeowner’s every wish—whether speaks the request, taps a button on keypad or swipes his finger across and iPhone. With control options galore, colored and choreographed lighting, and a sky-high cool factor, this smart house proves that there’s no such thing as tech overload if it’s engineered, designed, and installed properly.