Honeywell and its Connected Home business are focused on improving the comfort and safety of consumers every single day. While the brand is perhaps best known for its thermostats, Honeywell is now a leading provider of a broad range of connected home offerings, including smart home cameras. Honeywell aims to provide exceptional devices with even more exceptional customer experiences.
Voice control has been part of that mission—and part of Honeywell’s thermostats—since 2012. When Amazon introduced the Alexa Smart Home Skill API, Nick Dalsin, Honeywell’s director of partner development, saw an opportunity to give consumers more choice in how they control Honeywell devices in their home. And Dalsin said that choice had to include Alexa.
“Our products have always delivered a great customer experience, but we know it’s an open world,” says Dalsin. “We want to give consumers the best products and the ability to control them in whatever way they choose. And they choose Alexa.”
Creating New Experiences and New Capabilities
Honeywell built two Alexa skills using the original Smart Home Skill API—one for its Total Connect Comfort app that is used to remotely control its thermostats, and one for the newer Lyric line of smart home devices. These skills gave users voice control over basic thermostat operations. The latest update to the Smart Home Skill API allows Honeywell to add support for new Honeywell devices, new features to its existing skills and greater user responsiveness.
“You can now ask Alexa for the latest temperature reading on your Lyric leak detector,” says Joe Zwack, Honeywell’s senior API evangelist charged with maintaining the code for devices that work with Alexa. “With this update we’ve also added support for Lyric smart home cameras, letting users stream live video from cameras to their Echo Show and Fire TV devices.”
The updated skills take advantage of improved Groups as well as the new Routines feature.
Groups allow users to place their Echo devices into smart home groups so Alexa can act intelligently on requests without the user having to remember specific names of devices or device groups. For example, when a customer says, “Alexa, lower the temperature” while in the upstairs bedroom, Alexa would know to send the directive to the Lyric thermostat upstairs rather than in the basement.
With routines, customers can control multiple devices with a single voice command, including Honeywell’s thermostats and smart home cameras. When a customer says, “Alexa, someone’s at the door,” the voice command might turn on the porch light, activate the Lyric camera and stream video from the camera to the Fire TV—instead of having to receive three separate voice commands. Or a simple “Alexa, time for bed” might lower the thermostat, lock the garage door, arm the security system, and turn off the lights.
“With the Smart Home Skill API, our skills make it super easy for our customers to do the everyday things they want to do with their devices,” says Dalsin. “They don’t want to program every thermostat setting by voice; they just want to make the room they are in cooler or warmer.”
Capability Interfaces Simplify Support for New Devices, New Features
With the previous version of the API, developers represented a device as a particular type of appliance, each of which could support a set of voice-enabled actions. For example, a thermostat appliance has a very different set of actions than a camera or a light.
These days, though, new smart devices can be multipurpose. Zwack says the updated skills represent Honeywell devices by Capability Interfaces—designed specifically for thermostats, smart cameras and so on. Applicable primitives, such as the power and percentage controllers, apply across many types of smart devices. These features allow Alexa to discover all the different capabilities a device supports without having to classify it as one type of appliance or another.
“These changes are all for the better,” says Zwack. “Going forward, we’ll be able to integrate other devices more easily, rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time.”
In fact, he says the new thermostat Capability Interface allowed Honeywell to add a feature most often requested by their customers, mode changes. With this addition, users can ask Alexa to change the thermostat between cooling, heating, auxiliary, and on/off modes. Previously, these operations would have required Honeywell write a custom skill.
Delighting the Customer with Faster, More Responsive Interactions
What makes for a more delightful customer experience? Dalsin says it’s knowing you’ll get a fast, reliable response when you make a request. To make Alexa’s response to thermostat queries even snappier than before, the Honeywell team used proactive state reporting, a new feature of the Smart Home Skills API, to notify Alexa of any change in state of any Honeywell device, as soon as it happens.
For example, the moment the thermostat detects a change in temperature reading, it reports it to the Honeywell cloud, which in turn pushes it to Amazon within seconds. The same is true for changes in temperature set points, mode and on-off states for the device.
This allows Alexa to respond with low latency when a customer asks about the current temperature or thermostat set point.
“Even a year or two ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do this for our thermostats, much less our newer devices,” says Zwack. “Our using this feature means Alexa can provide real-time updates for current temperature, temperature set points, on- and offline status and more.”
Moving Forward with Voice
Besides thermostats and smart home cameras, Dalsin says the company has many other connected products that he is confident will become part of the voice experience.
“I think you'll start to see different products from Honeywell get the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) embedded in them,” says Dalsin. “Not only will we make smart home skills to work with our products, but we'll also start to embed voice right in our products.”
“We're working with Amazon to bring voice anywhere and everywhere. We're a believer in pushing voice everywhere it makes sense,” adds Zwack. “And I think other companies should be doing that, too.”
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