Josh is Like J.A.R.V.I.S. For Your HomeBy - 06/25/2016
We’re still hungover from when Amazon took the tech industry by storm with the Echo. Where Amazon was succeeding, it appeared that Google and Apple were in the same sinking boat. Google recently announced Google Home—a speaker with an always-listening, far-field microphone that will be launching later this year. And Apple is putting their voice assistant, Siri, into a speaker. It seems like these two big players feel like the key to success is copying Amazon’s concept. And in a way, that’s what Josh plans to do too, but he’s also different. Josh is a full-home voice solution installed through custom integration. And if you’re willing to dig into your pockets, he might make you feel less like yourself and more like Tony Stark.
Who is Josh?
Josh is an AI assistant. He uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand you. In theory, his ability to comprehend is something that sets him apart from the competition. Where Alexa struggles when I ask her to play Weezer’s Blue Album, Josh can respond to a multi-string command, “Play Weezer’s Blue Album, turn on the kitchen lights, and adjust the temperature.” If Josh is smart enough to understand language and to accept multi-step commands such as this, he’s already in a league of his own. And as another differentiator, he isn’t confined to a cylinder speaker. You can communicate with him using a smartphone, any microphone/speaker combo, or by using the included iPad.
How Do You Control Him?
Josh was built to work with a smartphone. This keeps him mobile, provides a visual display of important information (e.g. security camera footage), and allows him to take advantage of your phone’s near-field microphone. Unlike other devices, Josh isn’t always listening. When using your smartphone, you will need to tap to activate him and share a command.
But, hands-free control is arguably what people love most about Amazon’s Alexa. When you’re cooking, changing a diaper, or taking a bath, grabbing your phone to control your home isn’t convenient. In such cases, you can use the included iPad and Mac Mini. Both devices are customized to work specifically with your system. The Mac Mini is known as Josh’s Home Base and the iPad works as a hands-free controller. The iPad is always listening, but Josh only activates if he hears the wake word. If this freaks you out, you can simply turn off the iPad’s always-listening ability.
Finally, you can also use any microphone/speaker combo. At CEDIA Business Xchange, Capecelatro, the CEO and co-founder of JStar, shared that his company’s goal is to have microphones embedded throughout homes. In fact, he revealed that you can use Amazon Echo to tell Josh what to do. Of course, installation of this extra gadgetry will take place through their dealer network of integration experts.
What Can Josh Do?
Josh responds to voice commands. His primary job is controlling automation devices like lights, garage doors, thermostats, cameras, smart plugs, and many others. Like most smart home hubs and voice assistants, he has a few tricks up his sleeves to help him control such devices in a more intelligent manner.
You can create scenes with Josh that trigger multiple devices with one command. For instance, you can create a “Movie Night” scene which, when triggered, will set the TV to your favorite channel, dim the lights, close the blinds, and turn on your surround system at the same time with one spoken command.
Josh will include two versions of geofencing. The first will be used to determine when you leave and arrive home, and the other will be used to decide who’s home.
Other home automation devices use geofencing to automate actions. For example, a smart door lock can lock itself when you leave a geofenced area. On the other hand, Josh is different because he doesn’t act independently. Instead, he reminds you of things you should have done before leaving. So, if you accidentally leave the garage door open or lights turned on, he will remind you and offer to help.
To decide who is home, Josh uses iBeacon. This also helps to create a more personalized experience. For example, if you walk into a room, Josh knows not only that it’s you and that you are home, but he knows which room you are in. Let’s say you want the lights turned on in the room that you’re in and the room you’re in only. Simply say, “Josh, turn on the lights.” Because he knows it’s you and he knows what room you are in, he will take care of it.
As a side note, Geo-location is not available yet, and it might not be ready for Josh’s release. But, when it is ready, it will be rolled out via a firmware update.
According to JStar (creator’s of Josh), Josh learns. And this, my friends, is where he starts to look a little more appealing.
Josh can be predictive by learning patterns and habits. He predicts based on the time and day, the state of other devices, your location, and even the weather. At first, I thought his learning ability was comparable to that of the Nest Thermostat. But, according to Capecelatro, Josh is very different from Nest. Nest learns and then takes over your settings. If it thinks 72 degrees is the best temperature, it will set itself without consulting you. Josh takes a more conservative approach. He suggests, he doesn’t takeover.
Let’s use a “before-work” routine as an example. Josh will recall what you usually do before you leave for work (e.g. turn off all lights, open the garage door, and close all blinds). So every morning at 8AM, he will offer to repeat your usual routine.
Josh isn’t the only smart device that can work locally, but such devices are still rare. He lives both in the cloud and in your home. Even if your internet is down, you can still use Josh. Of course, without the internet, he won’t be fully functional. Without the internet he will still be able to understand you as a fraction of his NLP is stored within the Home Base. Also, you can still control your devices when the internet is out so long as you are home and the device you are controlling doesn’t live exclusively in the cloud. For example, you can’t control your ecobee thermostat because commands are sent to the cloud first, but you can control Lutron lights because Josh can bypass the cloud and send the command directly to the lights.
Of course, what good is any of this if Josh can’t connect to other devices? Currently, he works primarily with IP-enabled devices (e.g. Nest, Ecobee, Lutron, Sonos), but he will be able to communicate through Z-Wave and Zigbee. For a complete list of smart home devices that integrate with Josh, check out this list.
The Future Of Josh
Perhaps the biggest differentiator between Josh and similar devices is his price. JStar is now pre-ordering 100 Josh systems. If you have $5,000 to spend, you can be among the first to enjoy his features, but that’s just enough to cover your 50% deposit. The full purchase price is $10,000, for pre-orders. After the pre-order period, Josh will sell for $14,000. If you pre-order Josh, he will be sent to your home and installed by expert integrators. Aside from installing him, they will also integrate all compatible devices.
Is Josh worth $14,000? Not in my opinion. Voice commands are going to become commonplace over the next couple of years, and there isn’t enough to set Josh apart from what will be a typical AI voice-controlled experience. Sure he can string together multiple commands like Stringify, might offer swipe control like Fibaro, offers iBeacon (as do many other devices), allows you to control your home from your smartphone like Homekit, but he’s also brand new. Brand new technology has quirks!
At the same time, Apple, Google, and Amazon are trying to make voice control a part of homes everywhere, affordable custom integrations are arguably around the corner. Nortek has acquired the voice recognition company Nuiki, ADT has already introduced limited voice integration, and even Savant, a high-end home automation integrator, has already started introducing voice. It won’t be long.