#TTCTALKS with Wayne Turett: “Alexa, Turn on ‘Movie Night’”

Welcome to the first installment of our new series, #TTCTalks! In 2021, we will be featuring blog posts written by our management team specifically written for the blog – here, you’ll hear professional architects and designers’ takes on patterns in the industry, their experiences in the field, and more – all from a first hand perspective. 

We are excited to share our first chat, written by The Turett Collaborative’s principal and founder, Wayne Turett! Scroll down to read his post, and stay tuned for more #TTCTalks coming throughout the year.

In the New Year I’ve resolved to speak more openly and honestly… with my smart home!

“Smart homes” have been around for a while, but voice user interface (VUI) is more recent and has become increasingly popular over the past few years. VUIs such as Alexa, Google, and Siri provide no-touch adjustment of household features such as lighting, climate, alarms, fans, speakers and electronics, and appliances all in one. These new devices provide an easier and more accessible way to control your home, and because they can be interconnected to a central computerized “brain”, the various devices can anticipate some of your needs or respond to the environment to optimize their performance, decrease energy use, and generally enhance your comfort and enjoyment. That’s what’s so “smart” about them.

I find these interfaces remarkable. As an architect for almost forty years, I genuinely do not think that these are a fad. I believe that the days of standard light switches are beginning to wane and that there are significant benefits to having new ways of controlling your home. Not everyone can get up and flip switches, especially those who are differently-abled or elderly. They also enhance safety: we have all walked into a dark house, feeling around on the wall for a switch, and fallen or bumped into a corner. That’s never fun. The day of having a conversation with your home –and finding a receptive and responsive ear– is upon us.

I’ve read about homeowners who are concerned that these interfaces are online and listening to you and your household even when they seem dormant. Well, some are. And this can mean that you’re obliged to trust that some of the companies providing service aren’t abusing that access. For that reason, VUIs of that type aren’t for everyone.  However, there is a VUI that isn’t connected to the outside world.  “JOSH.AI” is a VUI that controls Lutron and Crestron (popular brands of switches and interfaces), and a range of other digital equipment. A “JOSH CORE” box can be connected anywhere in your home: it connects your JOSH-enabled devices to your JOSH app, and can be configured so no information about your home travels via the internet. Using the JOSH.AI app on your phone or computer, you can use your voice to control your home from inside or afar, without compromising your privacy

I have been using some of these devices in my home and studio for a while now. In 2018, I built a Passive House in Long Island for myself and my family, intending to use less energy and dramatically lower our carbon footprint. Since moving into the new house, my family and I have been conscientious about turning off lights when not in use, strategically closing and opening doors, shades and windows to trap heat. Using Alexa to control my lights, audio, and HVAC makes these tasks simpler and easier, and so far I think it is helpful and adds to our quality of life. “Alexa turn off the lights.”

What is so “smart” about these devices is that you can program them. For example, you can schedule your lights and shades to operate at a specific time of day, varying with the season, or allow the device to take control and turn on and off based on sunset, sunrise or when the sun is hottest or brightest; that way, you are not wasting energy if you could be enjoying natural light. It gives you the ability to create personalized scenes, such as “Dinner” or “Movie Night,” so you don’t have to mess with the controls: just use your voice to select a scene and continue with your activities. Beyond the virtues of hands-free activation, the “smartness” of these devices can enhance security:  the device can  learn your daily patterns and replicate them in your absence, to create the appearance that a home is occupied even when it is not. 

The moral of the story is that I advocate for these VUIs and believe that they are the future of home controls. I advise my clients and readers to look into these systems when making changes to their living space. Maybe for the New Year, you too can resolve to speak more openly and honestly with your home!