Voice Control

A current trend within the ‘smart home’ megatrend is voice control. In addition to household appliances and alarm systems, lighting, entertainment and soon even networked health products will follow your every command.

The number of voice-controlled devices ascends fast. Photos: Manufacturer, DEKRA

Amazon’s in-house-developed voice-controlled assistant Alexa will not just be a product for tech fans. Their market success just goes to prove the direction that controls for the Internet of Things are heading – voice commands will increasingly replace tapping buttons on a display. At the International Consumer Electronics Show CES in early 2017, approximately 700 new products and services were revealed that support Amazon’s voice assistant. New York manufacturer
Gourmia – known for their smart coffee machine – also showcased a kettle and sous-vide machine that react to spoken word. LG presented refrigerators that add items to a shopping list following the owner’s voice commands, or even search for recipes online.

Interestingly, none of the exhibition’s new releases came from Amazon themselves. Rather, manufacturers have used the programming interface provided by the
Alexa developers to connect with Alexa’s artificial intelligence. Even car producers Ford and VW have demonstrated integration of the networked voice assistant in their cars. The first step in this integration is the voice control of the vehicles’ central locking or climate control systems from within the house. The next step – planned for this summer – will be controlling the smart home system from the car: “Alexa, open the garage door.”

Even though its prevalence makes the Amazon system seem unassailable in the market, it is not alone. Apple continues to bolster Siri, integrating it with the smart home system HomeKit. Producers are well-advised to make their solutions as flexible as possible, so that they are compatible with as many different competing platforms as possible. Philips is a good example of this; its networked “Hue” lighting system interacts with almost all smart home systems. The healthcare department of the Dutch corporation is also keeping a close eye on this case study. Consumer goods such as body analysis scales and blood pressure monitors can already be networked. Their integration into smart home systems would be the next big step in their development.

It is then at the latest that the question of data protection and security must be asked. Health data such as blood pressure and weight are, after all, very personal in nature. Nobody would wish them falling into the wrong hands. In testing the technology of household products, electrical safety and material properties are no longer the only aspects. Their data and IT security are also decisive. This applies to everything, from smart coffee machines to lighting systems and networked health products.

Interview with Beat Kreuter 

(Global Service Area Director Consumer Safety at DEKRA Certification B. V.)

DEKRA certified a smart coffee machine from Gourmia, a Dutch startup. Can you tell us more?

Kreuter: We make sure that the machines fulfill all regulations for all the markets that they will be sold in. This covers things such as testing their electrical operating safety, their electromagnetic compatibility, as well as testing the materials that come into contact with food. We then check the device’s connectivity, ensuring that it adheres to the regulatory standards governing both NFC and Bluetooth.

Do you often encounter test demands for smart home products?

Kreuter: Yes, we are seeing a strong increase – especially when it comes to movement sensors, switchable sockets or smart doorlocks. Interestingly, in addition to the traditional large-scale manufacturers, we are increasingly dealing with many startup providers.

What effect is the increased networking of products and apps having on testing?

Kreuter: We carry out more interoperability and conformity tests. And software tests, for apps for example. As there are no regulations surrounding apps yet, these are not yet top priority for many of our customers. But the EU is currently performing studies into app security and integrated product software. This will result in regulation.

Will data protection and data security also be a topic in future product tests?

Kreuter: Definitely. Next year, new data protection regulations will come into force. This will have a direct effect on smart home products. If an application collects data in the cloud, it must adhere to strict standards and ask the user to do so. Many products currently on offer do not do this. We expect the technical standards of smart home products to be more heavily regulated too – such as in solutions that control electricity usage using smart meters. Such aspects will certainly fall under our scope of investigation and testing in future.

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