As those of you who attended the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show last week know, the runaway favorite this year was Alexa Voice Service (AVS), Amazon Echo’s software that allows users to control compatible devices by voice, a conclusion aptly demonstrated by the avalanche of Alexa-controllable products that sprang up at the show floor like mushrooms in the wake of a spring rain. Estimates ran to as high as 1,000 AVS-related products on display, indicating that, rather than a flash-in-the-pan giftware gimmick, Amazon’s cylindrical droid appears destined to be the harbinger of mightier things to come in the personal AI arena.
I’ve had an Echo almost from the day it showed up on Amazon’s website in mid-2014, looking, initially, more for its entertainment value than as a household management partner. Gradually, however, I’ve begun to explore its control capabilities, adding power and lighting devices as they’ve become available. Today, I control my TV and some of my lights by voice, and look forward to putting my home heating and cooling systems into Alexa’s hands as well.
But what if you could place your home (or business) energy management system into Alexa’s hands, allowing her to respond to instructions on the use its various components—solar, genset, utility, and storage—in meeting parameters that you can reset on-the-fly based on intelligence, or (better still) whim? How about being able to set things in motion merely by saying, “Alexa, I’d like to be a little warmer than normal today, so set my thermostat to 70 degrees and cover the increased energy use with solar plus storage,” or “Alexa, they’re predicting thunderstorms tomorrow, so bring my batteries to at or above 90% and hold them in that range.”
Sound far-fetched? Not really, but for such things to work in the real world, it’s the systems Alexa controls that need the intelligence to carry out her instructions. That is the beauty of AVS, since it is merely an agent, providing the most rudimentary of instructions to those devices that will do the “thinking.”
Here’s a postscript to Mr. Bezos. AVS could become the overnight “must have” cockpit guardian angel to all aviators by providing voice controls over such routine but attention-diverting tasks as radio and navigation frequency selection, voice checklist and emergency procedure challenge and response tasks, and flight reminders and deviation warnings.