The rise of the smart home

Smart home systems promise high-tech homes for the future


by Nina Gee and Nisha Shankar

Google released a smart home system in November 2016 by the name of Google Home, just one example in the myriad of options available for the development of smart home systems and one step closer to high-tech homes of the future.

Google Home is a voice-activated speaker system featuring Google’s artificial intelligence assistant and works as a center of control for smart home systems.

“Some customers are really excited about it. Some customers know nothing about them and just want to buy them to have them,” said Laren Criddle, an electrical associate at the Home Depot in San Jose. “Some people have bought houses that are configured to use [smart home systems]—they are built that way.”

In 2014, Amazon released its intelligent personal assistant feature, Alexa, which was popularized by smart home device hub Amazon Echo and microconsole Amazon Fire TV. Google too announced in January 2016 a home system named Google Home, featuring  Google assistant, which is Google’s intelligent personal assistant announced May 2016.

“I think it really presents a tool that can be used daily,” Mahi Kolla (9), who owns a Google Home, said. “There was a release video for the Google Home, and it showed how a family used Google Home in the morning getting ready, and each individual member asked different questions, but Google Home was able to answer all of them…. I’ve never actually tried this, but you can set up a calendar and you can link it to your Google calendar.”

Some of Google Home’s features include a touchpad surface for total control of the device, precise faraway voice recognition, high-definition speakers, a mute button for privacy and customizable modular design. It can also stream the likes of songs, playlists and podcasts from the cloud. Another new feature helps remind the user where items like car keys and passports are.

Both Google Home and Amazon Echo act like search engines in that they allow the user to ask for music, weather, news and information. While Echo connects you to Alexa, which answers basic questions like what the weather is, Google Home connects you directly to the vast knowledge of Google and can answer specific questions and even the follow up questions to those inquires. They also monitor their users’ daily schedules and can adjust them on command.

“My favorite feature is just learning new things. You can ask it a question, and then it’ll just start telling you about something and that kind of intrigues you to ask more questions,” Mahi said.

Alexa can also access music from the cloud as well as Kindle e-books and Audible. Alexa also allows the user to order things off of and it can assist in tracking down a lost phone. A recently added feature allows the user to pre order coffee or food via the Starbucks Mobile Order and Pay feature. Alexa is also is the only artificial intelligence that allows the user to change its “wake word”, a phrase that Alexa is programed to respond to.

Smart home systems often connect to a phone app, which contains most of their settings and can connect to other smart home companies’ apps, such as Nest.

Concerns have also recently been brought up about the safety of these devices, as Google Home and Echo are constantly on and record everything their microphones can pick up. Customers worry that hackers might be able to listen in on them through Echo or Google Home. Only the words spoken after the “wake word,” however, are documented. Still, Google and Amazon have also taken precautionary measures by implementing a mute button which cuts off the mic completely.

While the systems still do have some technical flaws and are constantly being updated, the advent of these devices provide a way for the creation of more efficient home systems in the future.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on February 21, 2017.