The home of tomorrow, full of automated gadgets controlled by an AI housemaid, is not as far fetched as we once thought. From Amazon’s Alexa platform, to the recently unveiled Google Home, to Microsoft’s Smart Fridge, homes are becoming more smart and connected than ever before.
Today, General Electric announced another step toward a fully connected home with the launch of Geneva, an Alexa “skill” that allows users to control WiFi-enabled GE devices with their voice, using an Amazon Echo or another device that runs Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.
With Geneva, users can do things like check on their laundry from a different room, or preheat the oven even if their hands are covered in cake batter. Users would say, for example, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.”
Geneva is unique because it is the first skill to integrate Alexa with such a wide range of devices, and also to integrate with appliances. While there are plenty of existing Alexa skills that control lighting or thermostats, Geneva can control everything from washing machines to the Keurig in GE’s Café refrigerators. GE says the skill will work across the connected Monogram and GE Appliances suite. In the future, it will also work with window air conditioners.
For safety reasons, certain appliances, like stovetops, cannot be activated through Geneva, and some appliances require a user to turn on remote access before being able to use it.
While Geneva’s capabilities are convenient and fun for the average user, William Gardner, program manager for voice integration at GE, says the skill will also have other valuable uses.
“The immediate thought is that it is always the young, tech savvy users who are early adopters,” he said, “but when we exposed it other demographics, particularly those with mobility issues, they responded very well to it.”
“Based on how we’ve seen it, everybody uses it for something a little bit differently,” Gardner said. His mother, who is recovering from a broken foot, was excited that the skill would let her check on laundry or preheat the oven without needing to walk between rooms, he said.
Users with vision problems are another great example — with Geneva, they can set timers or change settings without needing to navigate an appliance’s menu.
Gardner said Amazon worked closely with them on the project, particularly on developing Geneva’s language model, the program that connects what users say with the outcome they intend Geneva to take. “Amazon saw right away the uniqueness of what we were trying to introduce to the market, and really gave us a lot of support and advice on language models and utterances that make sense and were easy to recognize,” Gardner said.
“We’re excited to work with GE Appliances to bring hands-free voice control to major appliances like refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers and more for the first time,” said Charlie Kindel, director of Amazon Alexa Smart Home, in a news release. “One of our goals with Alexa is to enable voice control on every device within the home, and this collaboration gets us one step closer to achieving that. We can’t wait for our Alexa customers to try it out.”
Geneva was developed through the Alexa Skills Kit, which gives third party developers access to APIs and tools to create Skills for the interface. In the year since the ASK was released, close to 2,000 skills have been added to the platform. Update, 7 a.m.: Amazon announced this morning that the number is now 3,000 skills.