Why Did The Home Assistant Future Not Quite Work The Way It Was Supposed To?

The future, as seen in the popular culture of half a century or more ago, was usually depicted as quite rosy. Technology would have rendered every possible convenience at our fingertips, and we’d all live in futuristic automated homes — no doubt while wearing silver clothing and dreaming about our next vacation on Mars.

Of course, it’s not quite worked out this way. A family from 1965 whisked here in a time machine would miss a few things such as a printed newspaper, the landline telephone, or receiving a handwritten letter; they would probably marvel at the possibilities of the Internet, but they’d recognise most of the familiar things around us. We still sit on a sofa in front of a television for relaxation even if the TV is now a large LCD that plays a streaming service, we still drive cars to the supermarket, and we still cook our food much the way they did. George Jetson has not yet even entered the building.

The Future is Here, and it Responds to “Alexa”

An Amazon Echo Dot device
“Alexa, why haven’t you been a commercial success?” Gregory Varnum, CC BY-SA 4.0

There’s one aspect of the Jetsons future that has begun to happen though. It’s not the futuristic automation of projects such as Disneyland’s Monsanto house Of The Future, but instead it’s our current stuttering home automation efforts. We’re not having domestic robots in pinnies hand us rolled-up newspapers, but we’re installing smart lightbulbs and thermostats, and we’re voice-controlling them through a variety of home hub devices. The future is here, and it responds to “Alexa”.

But for all the success that Alexa and other devices like it have had in conquering the living rooms of gadget fans, they’ve done a poor job of generating a profit. It was supposed to be a gateway into Amazon services alongside their Fire devices, a convenient household companion that would help find all those little things for sale on Amazon’s website, and of course, enable you to buy them. Then, Alexa was supposed to move beyond your Echo and into other devices, as your appliances could come pre-equipped with Alexa-on-a-chip. Your microwave oven would no longer have a dial on the front, instead you would talk to it, it would recognise the food you’d brought from Amazon, and order more for you.

Instead of all that, Alexa has become an interface for connected home hardware, a way to turn on the light, view your Ring doorbell on models with screens, catch the weather forecast, and listen to music. It’s a novelty timepiece with that pod bay doors joke built-in, and worse that that for the retailer it remains by its very nature unseen. Amazon have got their shopping cart into your living room, but you’re not using it and it hardly reminds you that it’s part of the Amazon empire at all.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. The idea was that you might look up from your work and say “Alexa, order me a six-pack of beer!”, and while it might not come immediately, your six-pack would duly arrive. It was supposed to be a friendly gateway to commerce on the website that has everything, and now they can’t even persuade enough people to give it a celebrity voice for a few bucks.

The Gadget You Love to Hate

In the first few days after the Echo’s UK launch, a member of my hackerspace installed his one in the space. He soon became exasperated as members learned that “Alexa, add butt plug to my wish list” would do just that. But it was in that joke we could see the problem with the whole idea of Alexa as an interface for commerce. He had locked down all purchasing options, but as it turns out, many people in San Diego hadn’t done the same thing. As the stories rolled in of kids spending hundreds of their parents’ hard-earned on toys, it would be a foolhardy owner who would leave left purchasing enabled. Worse still, while the public remained largely in ignorance the potential of the device for data gathering and unauthorized access hadn’t evaded researchers. It’s fair to say that our community has loved the idea of a device like the Echo, but many of us wouldn’t let one into our own homes under any circumstances.

So Alexa hasn’t been a success, but conversely it’s been a huge sales success in itself. The devices have sold like hot cakes, but since they’ve been sold at close to cost, they haven’t been the commercial bonanza they might have hoped for. But what can be learned from this, other than that the world isn’t ready for a voice activated shopping trolley?

Sadly for most Alexa users it seems that a device piping your actions back to a large company’s data centres is not enough of a concern for them. It’s an easy prediction that Alexa and other services like it will continue to evolve, with inevitable AI pixie dust sprinked on them. A bet could be on the killer app being not a personal assistant but a virtual friend with some connections across a group of people, perhaps a family or a group of friends. In due course we’ll also see locally hosted and open source equivalents appearing on yet-to-be-released hardware that will condense what takes a data centre of today’s GPUs into a single board computer. It’s not often that our community rejoices in being late to a technological party, but I for one want an Alexa equivalent that I control rather than one that invades my privacy for a third party.

121 thoughts on “Why Did The Home Assistant Future Not Quite Work The Way It Was Supposed To?

  1. We went from having Google Homes and Hue bulbs in every room to having zero of either. All it took was moving into a house that had reasonable built in lighting and sensible light switch-controlled outlets. For us they were a way to get around a poorly lit rental. The other death knells for it were increasingly distrusting them and switching to iPhones.

    Google assistant felt like it lost features over the years (big one was then shoehorning Google Shopping in over Google Keep lists, though that may have been fixed?). It also felt like it became hard of hearing and increasingly dumber when it came to recognizing our commands.

    1. I will say that this tech does have a special place, elderly people. When my mom was not mobile she loved to have her favorite light on, turn the tv on and when her memory was going I had a piece of paper with the the code word to activate “Her”. After her passing my father (87 years young) still uses it, notify when the door is not locked at night and if it should be, close the garage door, turn off the light or listen to a audible. I’m not home often and its nice that someone can help out when I’m gone and I can check on him remotely.

  2. The only acceptable celebrity voice for the Alexa would be, of course, Majel Barrett. I remember listening to her voice on railroad radio sensor reports… it was great.

    1. I wanted the actor’s voice that did HAL. That would be epic for everyone named Dave.

      Seriopusly though, I have an olderr some somewhere was was planning to put the guts in a box so I could create the HAL9000 look.

      1. Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor who was the voice of HAL, passed away in 2018 at age 90. No doubt AI can recreate his voice from all the existing samples of his performances.

      1. I am disabled and it works out cheaper employing someone. Everything else is on an electronic timer.
        I do have reliable robot vacuum cleaner.
        All camera lenses are physically taped over.
        I have an Echo Spot and Dot, they chirp in unannounced and are confused by most requests.
        I am not interested enough to have an automated home.
        Amazon Fresh are unreliable, bad tempered, rude and throw my produce around.
        I have had umpteen refunds and all I require is the reliable service they promise.
        They should stick Kindles because they are not much good at anything else.

      2. I always enjoyed that movie as a harbinger of things to come. And as the character, Forbid, was modeled after the real-life computer genius, Seymour Cray. Seymour was the lead designer at Control Data Corporation in the 1960’s and the CDC 6500 series machines that he designed were at the pinnacle of super-computing power in the scientific, military and engineering communities at the time of the movie’s release. I had worked for CDC in L.A. during the 70’s as an engineer fresh out of college and Seymour was a legend. Of course he later left CDC to start his own company.
        But what I noticed in the thumbnail of the video clip that the typeface used for Colossus was very similar to that used for the product badges of the CDC computer systems. Even the same layout style of brushed steel satin on black background. So familiar.

    2. Until my wake word of “Hey Beavis” can be answered by an idiotic giggle, we have NOT arrived. It would be nice to get some hardware documents for all these speakers when they go EOL in the next few years.

    1. By profiling users and selling any personal data gathered with use. That’s the reason home assistants are (to me) a complete failure and I wouldn’t use any non disconnected and non FOSS one even if they paid me to.

    1. +1

      Yup that sums it up nicely. I gave both Google and Alexa the boot when I happen to mention getting rid of my deceased wife’s personal products to a friend while talking on the phone (POTS) and suddenly I was bombarded with Women’s personal product ads in my searches.

      A different subject but has it has happened again just recently and I need to figure which device is listening again. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  3. If you want a device that does not invade your privacy then you have to make it yourself.
    It is at this point rather obvious that ALL commercial options will invade you privacy.
    This will not change the next 50 years at least – with the exception that it might become harder and harder to make your own device due to lock-downs of venues to buy parts and politics of course..

    1. Somone earlier did a Make Magazine articles on how they created an overlay system that required a wake up work to you could essentially mute it when not needed.

      And since its in our kitchen, all the NSA hears is how much we use it as a kitchen timer. It the government drags me away, it will be over my browser history, not what i say to my wife while eating.

    2. With the new privacy laws in the EU, we already see many foreign companies complain and even threaten to pull back their products from our markets. And what surprised me even more is Sam Altman (of ChatGPT) making a fuss about that governments should be careful with AI and privacy, but then threatening to pull ChatGPT off the European market because he thinks our new Privacy laws are too strict. Way to go in gaining trust from your potential buyers, Sam! For 2 or 3 month we thought that you actually cared about privacy. But nope.

      If you want a device that does not invade your privacy, you have to make it yourself.

      It’s sad but true. Privacy laws hide precious information for everyone who is trying to make a buck. So manufacturers would sell their souls for ways to invade privacy without anyone noticing.

      People living in Eastern Germany before the ’80’s have experienced that all too much.

        1. Honestly I think it’s better to err on the side of too strict / too cautious with privacy + data protection laws as you can’t un-leak data.

          I read an article a while back that said for companies, handling & storing private data should be as attractive as nuclear waste – something they would only do if they absolutely have to, not something they gather as much as possible of just for funsies.

        2. It’s not only that they are too strict, they are useless. Privacy will not be protected. That ship sailed decades ago. This all reminds me of that German guy who saw the shattered statue of Apollo and said something along the lines of “You’ve really got to pull your life together…”

      1. Free and private are incompatible. You are sending voice snippets up to the cloud to be processed by banks of expensive NVidia cards. Something has to pay for that so you are making a deal. What they should do is offer an option to pay for the service which removes the need to trade data for processing. But sadly experiments in pay processing never get enough people signed up to make the businesses work.

        The problem I have with EU’s rules are that they are moving towards making it impossible to do the trade of privacy vs free processing. If you totally restrict data mining then you are going to have to pay for these services with cash.

        Kind of like a recent poll on global warming. Everyone thinks it is a problem and wants it fixed. But when asked how much would you personally pay to fix it, the average answer was $20 with 30% of people saying nothing.

        1. Only if you really on edge compute. Optimised models are quickly minimizing the need for cloud services for basic functions and the rest can be supplemented piecemeal as needed.

      2. In “The life of others” the east German Stasi officer sits in the attic with headphones, surveilling the sucpicious family below.
        Now picture that scene, but dad saying: ” Karl, turn on the light.” The guy in the attic gets up, flips a switch, sits town again.

    3. I picked up one of those Broadlink universal remote hubs, and in addition to it being able to control devices designed for google home and alexa, work as IR universal remote control (in the room it’s in obv) it may be able to sneak into the X10 radio control band and I can kludge into a bunch of old Radioshack controllable sockets. It also has learning features, so oddball protocols might be possible, dirt cheap wifi lights on sale, yay throw them in the cart… Intention is to slave it to a Pi setup with local voice recog libraries. IDK quite what I’m doing with it yet, I am dazzled by the apparent possibilities, and have yet to figure if the spiel matches the real world. It would be amazing if it’s a complete “Borg” of all commercial IoT parts.. ever.. your technological distinctiveness will be added to our own, resistance is futile….

      1. I have one of those too. While I set up it for the TV etc, those all get controlled over the network instead. It’s main use is making the ceiling fan WITH a wonky rf protocol accessable to HA

  4. There’s also the issue that many people (especially British) feel uneasy speaking to something that isn’t a real person. I will use Siri to change what music I’m listening to whilst driving, but not when I’m sitting in my house for example. I can’t touch my phone when driving, so I have to resort to voice control, but in my house it’s less awkward to just pick up the phone and tap on what I want.

    1. I’m not British, but am strongly disinclined to speak to a computer or other non-person thing.
      (Muttering or yelling at the screen when my code doesn’t work notwithstanding.)

      1. It’s nice to turn things on and off when your hands are covered in chicken grease or you’re on the can, or theoretically both I suppose, and the kids like to use it to see how things are spelled.

        But yeah, a huge part of denied PiHole DNS requests are from the speakers. And it IS getting dumber lately. The end is near.

    2. Also not British and I too am strongly disinclined to speak to a human. Oh, wait… not what we were talking about? I mean.. humans are kind of a pain in the ass to talk to. They like to talk themselves more than they like to listen. And they believe crazy things just because they want to and only get more convinced when presented evidence counter to their wishes. Dogs are good. Dogs are much better.

      Yeah, I don’t want an Amazon or Google microphone in my house either. Something similar that does the voice recognition locally and only hits the internet to get an answer when it hears it’s wakeup word would be pretty nice though.

    3. I too don’t want to speak to devices. So when I comment on this subject I just do it from a 3rd party standpoint. I know there are people who do want to have such interfaces, like in this case List, but I’d never consider it something I would want, not even with full privacy.
      Still, I have to acknowledge that in some situations it’s just too damn cumbersome to type stuff and buttons won’t cut it, and my solution so far is to just accept the thing as impossible, which is not ideal.

      1. Vending machines that say or display “Thank you”.

        Just have the machine print out “The corporation that leases this machine and the company that leases it to them appreciate your continued business.”

        Sirius Cybernetics

        1. For societal benefit, the machine could provide a soothing (Demolition Man, 1993) exhortation, “Be well, citizen.” Or perhaps a cheery farewell (The Prisoner, 1967) encouragement for future business, “Be seeing you.” However, Stallone’s extension, “…be…”) is more in line with what the machine really portends. And Number 2’s tata speaks for itself. So many clues; so little time left.

  5. With Alexa I have a “from microphone to Wifi to switch” -environment build within minutes and working well.

    Is there any open source/free to use/local running speech recognition system available? Hardware plus software (!), working concept, easy to build?

    1. not yet but it’s close. Home-assistant is a open-source locally hosted home automation server that you can install on a raspberry pi(or your PC). With that you can control most smart devices(unless they require specific propriotary apps to control). This year is it’s push to add voice control.

      Also, many of those smart devices that like to “phone home” can be reflashed with the Tasmota firmware converting them locally controlled open-source devices, or you can build/modify your own with an esp32/8266.

      1. Ah, whisper.cpp! I had it on my list already.

        I think any solution needs to have some initial solution to start a broader development approach. I love Alexas Tea Time Countdown. So easy to use. Or set up an alarm o wake me up. Or turn off the light in the other room because I always forget it. It is the mix of small solutions that makes it so nice.

        So I will monitor Home-Assistent. Thanks!

        1. Just picked up the M5Stack device (voice to text) that uses a button as the ‘wake word’. Hoping it will arrive soon. I’m only just getting a grasp of the latest Home Assistant (2023.5) and there’s a lot of out of data info on the tubes that making it a bit frustrating. Though once I get it working it’s working well with WiFi (Tasmota), ZigBee and Zwave. All on MQTT. I have a lot more I need to do but I tugged out the SmartThings now (yea!).

          1. The M5STACK ATOM Echo is quite pricy in Europe (>20 €) and unobtainable, all shops have zero stock. AliEx has it for around 20 € including shipping.

            20 €. I mean, a loudspeaker, a mice and an esp32-pico-d4. Not that kind of a cheap deal.

            Otoh, M5Stack is looking sexy.

        2. For off-line phrase processing with Whisper you need to leave a $1000+ GPU running 24/7 to get a reasonable response time. The ESP Box is just processing the hot word and then streaming the voice off to the GPU (which is exactly what Alexa does with a shared GPU).

          I not planning on dedicating a $1000 GPU and paying the electricity to leave it on 24/7 just to get some added privacy.

          1. I run Rhasspy in Home Assistant on a 7 year old NUC, it is honestly either the first or second generation NUC they made and it works flawlessly. The only thing it doesn’t have is DSP where it can “home” in on your voice for lack of a better term but can control all my devices, get the weather, and set timers which is 99 percent of what I did with Alexa before I got rid of it. Just have a speakerphone hooked up to my NUC vis USB and some m5stack Atom’s with a mic and speaker built in (the speaker is awful( and has a battery so I can carry it around. All working 109 percent local.

            Considering Nabu Casa/Home Assistant hired the guy that wrote Rhasspy to head up their voice assistant I’m pretty sure you won’t need a 1000 dollar GPU. You would only need something like that for Frigate like one of Google’s custom AI modules for smart detection video stuff and even then those are 150 to 500 depending on the model.

            I have seen people running Whisper on raspberry Pis, all local so not really sure where you got that info from but you do have to spend the time to create intents so it knows how to respond to questions and not just controlling your smarthome devices. Why would you need a 1009 dollar GPU to turn on your TV which can already be done using the built in HA app assistant on Android or iOS? You can also type if you don’t want to speak as it does still use Google’s or Apples voice recognition for voice in the Android app but even Google has made their smart devices start doing more locally because the cost of keeping cloud servers up is more expensive (not that they don’t take all that data). This is all local. Everything personal data wise is opt in in HA, not opt out.

    2. My Mother-in-law had difficulty seeing. The Alexa voice controlled light bulbs and microwave enabled her to live alone for another two years. I believed it even could set the channel on her TV so that she could listen to a different channel.

      Meanwhile I’ve turned “heh Google” and Contana off as I do not want my phone and PC listening to everything we say.

  6. I have exactly zero use for a speech-controlled shopping cart; I simply am not buying stuff all the time aside from groceries and those make absolutely no sense to order online, let alone from Amazon or similar. When I need to buy groceries, I drive to the store 5 minutes away, get what I need and come back home — no need to wait for any of my stuff to arrive days later.

    So, if not a shopping cart, what else could any of these speech-thingamabobs offer to me that the company could monetize? Well…..to be quite frank, nothing. I can’t ask it to help me carry stuff around, I can’t tell it to do any chores, I can’t tell it to hold the flashlight when I’m trying to see into some dark corner somewhere and the things I could tell it do, I just am not willing to pay for since they’re just simply not particularly useful or important to me.

    1. Its an awsome “hands free” kitchen timer.
      It also tells us the temperature before we go out for walks.
      It also have nifty notifications such a weather alerts or that a package has arrived
      We do play our local radio station over it from time to time
      At one point it controled our TiVo with voice commands. Cool when it worked.

      On the other hand, I just ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon last hight, but there is no way that my echo dot would be.

      In my mind Alexia would be perfect for those who are disable in some way, including those who are blind. I can’t see any major path to being a major direct revenue stream, but then I didn’t predict social networks either.

      1. Those are *your* usecases, not mine. I don’t do anything in the kitchen that I would need a “hands free” timer for. I can perfectly well view the temperature on either my phone or my PC, I don’t need to be told it out loud as well. There is no weather I’d need alerts for. I already get a notification on my phone if a package I’ve ordered arrives. I don’t listen to radio, I don’t have a TiVo and so on.

        For disabled people, sure, these kinds of things can certainly be useful and it’s nice for you that you get use out of them as well, but I still don’t have any use for one.

      2. kind of off topic but the he apple Vision Pro looks pretty amazing. I will say Apple is the one company that can get hardware and software right. 24 core CPU, 72 core GPU. 32 core neural processor. 23 million OLED pixels split between 2 screens, one for each eyes
        that are the size of stamps, lidar eye tracking, cameras so you can see everything around you with a 12 millisecond response time. Can take and watch stereoscopic 3D videos, can model a 3d printer job with your hands and send it to a printer. All in one bulky head unit but no controls, uses your hands and eyes to control everything. Can watch 200+ inch movies, 3d sports like you are there and while it’s a year away and 3.5K that’s a LOT of tech in a headset granted it bulky but it’s basically VR/AR, a computer, a movie theater, and way more for 3.5K which is a lot but that’s still a deal for all that. obviously I wouldn’t get one but I. 5 years from now, well, you never know. It could do a lot for handicapped people but obviously Apple has to get app developers on board but we all know what they did with the iphone. Pretty crazy they can pack that all Into a single headset and use eye tracking, your hands, and a virtual keyboard or voice to cotrrol it all. Yeah. It’s super bulky and you would kooks stupid wearing it but considering how much some high end TV’s are it’s almost worth it just for that


        1. To use AR and VR, you need perfect unaided vision.
          If you wear spectacles for reading, forget it.
          I have spent thousands on these products only to have to return every one for a refund.
          The companies are not interested in answering my questions.
          I use video recording glasses to aid my disabilities.
          I cannot wear anything tethered to another device for it to work either.
          I cannot see HUD – Head Up Displays on cars either.
          I have a TBI and SCI C4-6.
          I have a co-pilot sat with me describing the vision as I drive. Some road signs are washed out in my vision. It’s a type of colourblindness.

          I am still waiting for technology to help me.

          It’s not there yet for me.

  7. There is “Home Assistant” in the title and no references to it. Guys: Home Assistant is one of fastes growing projects on github.

    There is loss of interest from Big Companies as its monetization potential dimnishes, while home automation is growing.

    1. So, home assistant is the core of it; to replicate something that’ll take in voice you’ll need something like rhasspy for voice and intent processing.

      (one of my side projects has been an on-prem voice assistant more or less based around a couple Pi 4 SBCs and a micro server for the local voice/intent processing. It sort of works?)

        1. HA/Nabu Casa hired the guy that wrote Rhasspy to head up their voice project and Rhasspy works great as an add on in HA. With that said, he wrote Rhasspy for free and now he’s got a full time job heading up the voice team so I’m pretty sure in 5 to 6 months HA’s voice assistant is going to be pretty amazing. I’m still using Rhasspy in HA because it works and everything is set up but I’m sure that will change sooner than later to using HA’s new native integration.

      1. Rhasspy works in Home Assistant perfectly fine as an add on. I run it and haven’t switched yet. Nabu Casa/Home Assistant hired the guy who wrote Rhasspy so Rhasspy is pretty much never getting anymore updates at this point. I mean, the guy wrote Rhasspy for free, now he’s got a full time job. Rhasspy still works for me via Home Assistant perfectly fine and I see zero reason to switch until HA gets their voice assistant smoothed out. Consoldering that they hired the guy who wrote Rhasspy and gave him a full time job to head the project Im sure it will work out awesome in five to six mo ths from now.

  8. i feel the title of this post invites jokes like

    Q: Alexa, I’ve got 99 problems.

    A: But a glitch isn’t one!

    Q: Alexa, how much do you weigh?

    A: I am weightless, like a cloud. Let’s just say I’m more sass than mass.

    Q: Alexa, do you have any pets?

    A: I don’t have any pets. I used to have a few bugs, but they kept getting squashed.

  9. “no doubt while wearing silver clothing and dreaming about our next vacation on Mars.” HAHAHA. I stopped reading here. It seems all what we´ve achieved is to sever the link to understanding the nature and ignore all the planet´s warning. There will be future on Mars for humanity, if we´re not able to re-build a sustainable one down there – let alone prevent the planet to be un-habitable for us humans.

    1. The technology exists, but people are too lazy to do anything, and there are many such people here. Mars won’t be any different after more than just career astronauts live there.

  10. The underwear gnomes strike again.

    There was never any path to profitably for Alexa/Echo devices other than charging enough to make a profit on the hardware or increase services revenue with music subscriptions.

    Thinking that using Alexa would increase sales was pretty silly. Practically everyone is already buying from Amazon. Even if it was experience to order via Alexa, they would be self-canabalizing.

  11. I still wonder what Bezos was on; He was a personal shield for any criticism towards the Alexa group during his tenure before the moneyfog made him forget what they even were before the CEO change. Shopping on Amazon is such a minefield that spending extraordinary amounts of time researching, verifying, and price-comparing is the norm to where many customers don’t even notice it anymore. Even when the product is from a known brand, there’s always a high possibility of shady sellers doing weird algorithmic pricing games so a visual interface is still mandatory.

    The oddest part of all this is that the new flavors of *-GPT are wholly a backend thing, why not keep the decade old brand that people know (Siri/Alexa/Cortana) and just do a brain swap? Right now it seems that all existing assistants are being retired with no real voice-commanded replacement despite *-GPT being the perfect app with how well it handles oblique questions and the conversational replies.

    1. Why do you think Amazon turned it into a closed mesh network that uses 3 layers of encryption unless you opt out of Amazon Sidewalk in the Alexa/Ring/Fire TV app? Been doing it since 2119 and covers 90 percent of the US population (people, not area, only done in the US) using Bluetooth and now LORA devices with a half mile range? All to use your neighbors wifi to turn off that wifi light that has a weak connection (per Amazon) to your wifi. Just Google “Amazon Sidewalk Coverage” and tell me that’s totally trustworthy. Maybe I’ve got my tinfoil hat on but I don’t trust multi billion dollar corporations at their word.

    2. It’s not the technology but the economics. The revenue from voice assistants never covered the costs of the product teams, the support teams, and the servers. Despite have been around for almost a decade, nobody has yet to figure out a way to get these products to break even, never mind make a profit.

      1. I take it you haven’t heard of Amazon Sidewalk then? It’s a closed mesh network made up of Amazon devices that currently covers 90 percent of the US population using Bluetooth and LORA which is a low bandwidth protocol to that can reach half a mile and now they are opening it up to third parties. It used 3 layers of encryption but sure. Amazon would never do anything shady to make money, am I right? It’s been around since 2019 and you can opt out in the Alexa app but most people have never heard about it which is why I was surprised it wasn’t mentioned in this article. Also the Ring app and on your FireTV if you own one.

        You are right though. Everyone was in a race to be number “1” for voice assistants but then realized there isn’t a way to profit from it. Can’t add ads now, nobody would accept that. It costs tons to keep all those cloud servers up and Amazon and Google have both recently scaled back of Alexa and Google Assistant although Google Bard is a different story (Google’s version of ChatGPT).

        But Amazon has quietly bought smart device companies and now has a closed mesh network system that uses your internet if you own any of their devices like a FireTV or Ring doorbell. You do t even have to own an Echo and I’m sorry but I just don’t trust billion dollar corporations. Especially when all traffic is encrypted and Amazon “swears” its only used for IOT devices. Maybe I’m wearing a tin foil hat but I don’t believe that for a second. Especially when you build a closed network that covers 90 percent of the US population without spending a dime in Infrastructure because you use the devices you sell to.build that Infrastructure. That’s an entire different level than “all your data for free software” which is already bad enough, this is just ridiculous and most people have never even heard of it. There is zero reason for their to be a 900Mhz LORA radio in an Echo device yet newer ones have them built in.


    3. I’m pretty sure he conflated “This would be a fun pet project” with “This will make a ton of money.” Easy trap for tech CEOs, apparently. Similar to changing your company’s name to show you’ve decided the next big thing is a game called “Why Doesn’t Anyone Have Legs?” Or actually using Yogurt’s moichendising to promote your company complete with the flamethrower. Kids will love it!

  12. I have been following Mycroft for some time as a self-hosted solution and have spun it up a couple times to see what it could do, but I am sorely wanting some better hardware to put it on.
    I would love some cameras with two-way audio that could be modified to have the audio routed to Mycroft or an NVR with two-way audio support, and then some small assistant-like devices because I don’t need a whole interface.
    Maybe it is time to dig into it again and see what is possible now.

    1. My experience was that its wakeword detection got more and more temperamental, the whole project appeared to get more and more tangled with its Github repository, and eventually it fell to an alleged patent troll.

      There appear to be successors on Github, but I find myself wondering whether something far simpler based on relatively naive speech recognition and user-accessible scripting in some suitable high-level language would be more useful.

  13. Calvin: Yesterday dad went out to buy a hardcover novel.
    He said he wanted to read something long, rich, and thought-provoking for a change. And he wanted a cloth bindings, so his book could be carried around and reread later.
    Then he said he was going to buy the book with cash, so nobody could trace the purchase to him and exploit his interests for commercial purposes.

    Hobbes: Your dad’s going into the future kicking and screaming, isn’t he?

    Calvin: What of he’s turning into some kind of subversive?

    Bill Watterson

  14. I’m still trying to work out what I need a voice assistant in the house to actually do. I don’t need to turn the lights on in another room. I do have a remote switch for my office lights; it’s piezo powered, batteryless, sits on the desk where I need it, and works reliably. But I don’t need them connected to anything else.

    It’s a solution looking for a problem.

    1. Agreed. There are some tasks around the house that are good candidates for automation. Machinery for washing clothes or dishes – that solves an obvious problem and only needs basic controls. Robot vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers make sense too. And it would be great to have a pick and place line and a CNC five axis mill in the basement, of course. But most of the automation I would want involves taking a tool and making it do its job by itself. Alexa has a control interface but isn’t the tool.

      I don’t want my dishwasher connected to the Internet. Call me when you have one that puts the dishes back in the cupboard when they’re dry instead.

    1. let’s go back to 1965, HA was called a home assistant, fast forward to X10 (~1980) and it was called Home Automation, zip to the 2010;s and it was call a Smart Home. Zip to today and Jenny managed to use the original name that’s the same as an Open Source Project to turn your Smart devices into a Home Assistant.
      Yup have to agree with you, Alexa isn’t it (or IT).
      And now we’re way past a Smart Home, Home Automation or a Home Assistant. Home Automation isn’t about the home so much as it is about the people (or person). It’s an Assistant but so far it’s not that Smart (even with ChatGPT).

  15. I think the problem is that one size does not fit all. Every house is different, with different lights, heaters, TVs, etc., so it’s too difficult to design a product that will just drop in. Customers buying such a thing will be disappointed that it doesn’t do everything, and daunted by the sheer effort of customising it.
    Instead, you really need to be a dedicated geek to persevere and get it working. A piecemeal solution that grows over time is the only way to get what you want, but no manufacturer wants you to buy a la carte. No manufacturer wants to design all the parts for the whole system, in the hope that you’ll eventually get them, not do they want to be compatible with other manufacturers, because they want all the business themselves.
    I don’t use Home Assistant (unfortunately it’s a generic term, hence the confusion of the article title) but I do use Domoticz. It is the “glue” that joins up different devices from different manufacturers and presents a single interface. If I press a button it can do the right thing with various protocols and commands to achieve the result I want. In effect, my home automation system is platform and protocol agnostic.
    The popular solution seems to be Tuya. Some manufacturers are building bits of hardware and passing on the responsibility of making it work to a single company. Now if I want to turn on a light I send a command to somewhere on the internet and and it sends something back to my house. Obviously I don’t do that, but anyone who has bought into the Tuya ecosystem is going to be in a world of hurt one day.

  16. Forgot about Amazon turning it into a closed mesh network using Bluetooth and Lora devices in some of their newer products that covers 90 percent of the US population (not area, people). Amazon Sidewalk, all to use your neighbors wifi to turn off that wifi light that has a weak connection (or so they say) as it uses 3 layers of encryption. and you have to opt out in Alexa/ring app (only done in the US, for now). Yeah, nothing suspicious about a multi billion dollar company building a closed network without paying a dime in Infrastructure and using devices you purchase….. Maybe I have my tinfoil hat on but something doesn’t seem right about that to me.

  17. I bought into Insteon. It kind of worked. I have three switches that occasionally need to be reset. I could monitor the smoke alarms and water sensors and send messages to my phone. And I could access it anywhere using the phone. Then Insteon went Chapter 11. New devices were unavailable. The system that required your phone to add new components no longer works. I moved to Home Assistant. Sensors no longer worked. Messages to my phone no longer work. And I don’t know if I can add new Insteon devices. Insteon was bought out and we could sign up for a yearly fee and maybe it would work the way it used too. However the smoke bridge wasn’t supported and I haven’t looked to see if they have added it back in.

    Meanwhile my smoke detectors decided they were too old and have started complaining. Loudly. That’s another story.

    I used Insteon to monitor for water leaks, fire, and if the garage door was open. Also used it to open the garage door. Plus the best feature was to wire multiple switches to control multiple lights instead of just one light. For instance turning all the lights on in the back yard, or turning all the lights on in the front yard. Also for automatically setting the Hall light for evenings and mornings plus using the Hall light as a Night light. However requiring a third party and a phone app to control and monitor devices in your house does not make a lot of sense to me. Eventually the third party won’t want to be there when we need them. Or they will charge more money. Or you won’t be able to buy more plugs to expand your system. Or they will update their software and take away the functionality that you paid for. All of this has already happened to me.

    Home Assistant is able to control my lights and garage door. I have been able to send a text to my phone but hat requires that you are running a website, or pay someone. I have yet to spend the time to get my sensors running or try and add new Insteon devices. I agree that there are many old Videos out there and its extremely difficult to figure out how to use. At least it was last year when Insteon went under.

    When I started at Western Electric in 1980 ATT was showing off their House of the Future. That future isn’t here yet.

    1. Yes late reply … I am cleaning up around my home and restoring my home automation. It’s amazing what havoc my Mom (86, who won’t use computers or smart phones) can wreak on a stable system.
      My previous X10 and Insteon are now a pile of e-waste (grrr) but I have 5 Z-Wave First Alert CO/Smoke Alarms that are more than 10 years old (2 x AA Batteries) and they work great. My ZigBee devices and sensors work great although I need to figure out how to turn down the polling so the batteries last longer. The WiFi Tasmota devices have been very reliable, my wife loved them. I’m now on Home Assistant (HAOS) and it’s working well and I’m still learning how to make full use of it. I could never get any reasonable reliability with X10 or Insteon.

  18. My friend bought it second hand, so we wanted to try it, but no maater what we tried, it always threw errors during the wifi connection process, no matter what router we tried. So he sold it as a speaker to someone who want to figure it out.
    What use would i have for it? Maybe control music, lights in the room and nothing much else. When i shop on the internet, i deeply annalyze the price, shipping, parameters, reviews, everything, before i buy the thing. I cannot imagine just saying: “Alexa, buy me a soldering iron and simple third hand and tenpack of rma 223 flux” or “Alexa, buy me a crate of good herb beers”

  19. Yah the whole surveillance economy is the single thing that keeps me from adopting digital assistant and voice technology. Tech companies have this outrageous self righteous entitlement to every aspect of my private life I cannot in good faith allow myself to support in any way more than I can possibly avoid. The phone is far too intrusive and isp and cable tv data collection work to effectively restrict the content I view by self censoring. My internet and phone usage and habits would be quite different if I had reasonable confidence that everything I say and look at weren’t being tracked and potentially scrutinized. Why would I add another device in the home to give me further pause before speaking and acting what I desire?

  20. My home control system is a total hodgepodge; From X-10 boxes, Raspi’s running HeyU, Alexas everywhere running lights, fans, tvs, Blink, emulated Hue, Smart Life switches, Harmony IR controller, Cync bulbs, nightlights, Asterisk phones, even a nightly starry laser show… I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

    BUT, the one common denominator is full automation with no switches or remote controls. All lights are either motion or timer controlled for Morning, Evening, Nighttime. The fans and mood lighting are automatic or voice controlled. The TV is voice controlled (except for Roku remote. I didn’t like the voice control movie selection.) Lights come on in the morning, change during the evening, off or nightlight modes at bedtime. (Ok, I sometimes have to shout ‘Alexa daytime’ if a movie runs past bedtime, else sit in the dark.)

    In other words, we do nothing. The house does its own thing running daily/weekend routines. We just live here. Even has a vacation mode that still looks “lived in”.

    I see no reason to Home Automation if you still have to use a remote control or phone to turn things on/off. …the “automation” in Home Automation.


  21. Oh, great, I can see the future of 40 years where I am still yelling Alexa and Ok Google! at random walls and still thinking it the highest satire.

    /S/ I for one am shocked people didn’t line up to let corporate entities sell them products and serve them ads non stop with a microphone. Also at a level of intelligence that is pretty much bested by a 3 year old (I may know too many very gifted 3 year olds, skew your experience accordingly). /S/

    It would need to do a /better/ job to be useful. And in certain situations where you happen to have a highly automated house and physical restrictions it may be. But also being proprietary and web based is at odds with being useful 🤷‍♂️

  22. “A family from 1965 whisked here in a time machine” would be shocked to learn that have to carry devices which track our every move and report it in real time to a central system. And that it’s not even run by the government but by some industry giants. Even worse than any of the stuff they read in dystopian science fiction stories in the 1960s.

    Lol, they’d probably try not to show how shocked they are and try to divert to some a different topic. “Ha ha. But I guess you don’t have automated dating yet, right? Ha ha.”


  23. What on Earth are all you people automating in your homes?

    Need a light ? “Flip” switch – have light.

    What else do you have that needs turning on and off?

    I’ve never seen the point of “home automation.” There are appliances that do various things automatically when turned on. End of the story.


    When I hear people talking about closing doors and windows automatically, I’m reminded of a co-worker’s neighbor. She had an automated system to put down the roller shutters that are common on windows and patio doors here in Germany. The shutters are far more than simple blinds. When they are down, the only way to open them from the outside is to break them.

    The neighbor stepped out her patio door one evening to grab something she’d left outside. She was on her way to bed, so was wearing pajamas or a nightgown or whatever. While she was outside, the automatic “batten the hatches” evening program kicked in. She couldn’t get back to the patio door fast enough so it closed and left her outside. The house door was already locked (Germans always lock doors,) and she didn’t have a key in her pajamas. Trapped outside in her PJs.

    She had to go ring a neighbor’s doorbell and ask to have a locksmith called to open her front door so she could get back in the house.

    What do you people automate, and WHY?

    1. Agree, rather have a switch. Bu in cases, where there isn’t, smart switches are nice and better than rewiring. If I install a light at the garage, but want the switch in the house near the exit door, I can do that without running an extra cable. If I have a living room light plugged into an outlet, I can program it, so it turns on and off with the main light, the switch just works on both, as if I had the outlet rewired. If I want the light somewhere else, I just move it, the switch still works. I can even set it up, that one tap on the switch turns on the main light, two taps both lights. All of that works without cloud, voice commands, or a phone and looks just like regular wiring.
      I don’t really have a need for automation, but it could be nice to replace dumb timers with smart timers. Instead of setting a timer to water the lawn for half an hour every couple days, it waters only if there isn’t any rain. Some professional systems had that before home automation became a topic. And other areas have similar premium options: There are furnaces that take the outside temperature into account, sunshades that retract when the wind speed gets too high. But all these systems are proprietary and the smart is limited to what was intended by the manufacturer. Now with sensors that are independent of manufacturers one can set up some sane defaults that isn’t dumb automation. (And shutters that close every night at the same time without me hitting a switch and without first checking some conditions are dumb automation.)

  24. Because they suck, they’re pointless, they’re a scam. Just a way to squeeze data out of people in return for some stupid gimmick about colorful lightbulbs. Only an autistic person would think they are good.

  25. Using cloud services has pretty much become the Western version of China’s social credit system. If you don’t have the right politics, or if you are suspected of or reported as not having the right politics regardless of what you actually believe, they can cut you off. Louis Rossmann recently covered a case where someone’s smart home ceased to function because an Amazon delivery man reported a slur coming from the automated door bell while no one was at home, which apparently only said “how can I help you” or similar. Regardless, the homeowner was locked out of his Amazon account, and the smart home and the smart devices he had bought and paid for, no longer worked. Yet more reason for my smart home to be fully local and not at the mercy of a corporation which might shut it down if I sneeze.

  26. The “home assistant” future that visionaries proposed when I was a kid was imagined to serve the homeowner. The “home assistant” technology we got instead is actually designed to serve Amazon and Google. While “assistant” tech is not completely avoidable, I avoid/disable it to the extent I can.

    Incidentally, I spent my whole (tech-enthusiastic) life looking forward to a time when I could purchase my own C3PO to assist with life’s drudgery. As I get older, I see the real value in an intelligent machine to help as my own body begins to fail.

    But, on the eve of the arrival of these machines for general use, the
    TOS (and contempt for basic privacy) practises established by the Google, Alexa, Apple, Samsung (and others) means I will never allow a data-mining Judas spy-bot in my home.

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