Forget HAL, the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or JARVIS, the robotic butler of fictional billionaire Tony Stark.
“Alexa, tell August to lock the front door.”
With a voice command like this, a homeowner can activate a Bluetooth-controlled lock through Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, August Home, the smart-lock maker, announced Thursday.
The team up between August and Amazon is another step in expanding how "smart" a home can become at a reasonable price. Though gadgets to control, for instance, a house’s lights, thermostat, and audio system, have been around for decades, they could only be operated at first through personal computers and control pads, and eventually tablets and smartphones. Amazon popularized the voice control of smart homes when it released Alexa in 2014. Now, the two firms are pushing Alexa into home security.
“The ability to be able to talk to Alexa and control my lock is definitely getting closer to the home of the future,” says Lisa Auslen, the communication director of August, in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “But I think a lot of the capability that we see today is grounded and useful.”
“The ability to be in my kitchen, and wonder, ‘Did I lock my door when I came in? I’m not sure.’ Alexa helping me out with that is a lot better than me cruising around my house on a conveyor belt,” she adds, referencing the 1960s-era cartoon series "The Jetsons."
August Smart Locks have given homeowners remote control of their home security since 2014 through a smartphone or tablet. They could even voice command Siri (through their iPhone) or Google Now (through their Android) to turn an August dead bolt. However, August's collaboration with Amazon is considered a step further because of the affordability of Alexa-enabled devices such as Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, and because Alexa is a linchpin for other smart home devices.
A common setup for the smart lock would include an Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo ($180), an August Smart Lock ($199), and an August Connect ($79).
And Alexa can already control a host of other devices. Examples include the Nest thermostat, Chamberlain garage door opener, and smart LEDS from Philips. Other services Amazon has paired with Alexa include Domino’s Pizza to order delivery and Pandora to play a music station. And all of this will come at a cost of at least a tenth less than it would have a decade ago, Amazon says.
Though most of the technology to create smart homes has been around for at least two decades, the price has deterred homeowners from turning their science fiction fantasies into realities. In 2003, a smart home — outfitted with a video camera at the entrance, a remote control for audio systems throughout the house, lights, and the furnace — was about $100,000 to $150,000. The cost eventually came down. But users could only control the systems with a touchpad, tablet, or smartphone.
Enter Jeff Bezos. The Amazon chief executive hoped to do what his "Star Trek" heroes could: control his home with his voice, like they could control a starship by speaking to the ship's onboard computer.
Amazon then set out to create Alexa and the devices that enable it, first the Echo and now the Echo Dot.
Pretty soon, Alexa become compatible with lights, audio, and thermostats. Only now, though, can it control security too. But Alexa can’t do everything. For one, it can't unlock your door.
Jason Johnson, chief executive and co-founder of August, told CNET it and Amazon are developing unlocking capabilities, but they first need to ensure the technology is secure. In fact, this is a general concern among the industry.
In an Intel Security survey released in March, 75 percent of the 9,000 respondents expect smart homes to improve their quality of life. But 66 percent worried criminals could hack their Web-connected gadgets. But it’s not just criminals some in the industry are worried about.
Panelists at an Atlantic Council event March 31 suggested the lack of guidelines for internet-connected devices in the home could even be used against consumers, as the Monitor’s Jack Detsch reported.
"In the future, if you’re behind [on payments], you could be locked in your house until you pay back your bills," Greg Lindsay, a senior fellow at the New Cities Foundation, told the Monitor.
For some, though, the ease of smart home technologies outweighs some of the risks it poses. Ms. Auslen indicates many of August's customers are Airbnb hosts who want to secure their rental homes, or dog owners who want to provide dog walkers access to their homes, but also want security.
For other users of voice-activated devices, it's not just about convenience. It's neat.
Jeff Blankenburg, of Westerville, Ohio, told the Wall Street Journal he relies on his Echo speaker to open his garage door, track his car and turn on or off lights around his house.
“I could walk over and turn on my lamp, but it’s way cooler to ask it to do it,” said the 39-year-old software developer.