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"The Smart Home is Dead"

wkearney99

Senior Member
The latency for Alexa commands to round trip from the device, to the cloud, to Homeseer, back to the house is, on average, under 3 seconds.  No kidding.  "Alexa, turn on Office ceiling" just now was as instantaneous as I'd expect from anything on site.  The only time it's not fluidly instantaneous is if the command was garbled.  As in, poorly pronounced, while moving quickly between areas (like while hurrying down stairs and the command being picked up by three different devices) or ambient noise overwhelming it.  The professional-grade stove hood fan bugs the heck out of the kitchen unit's mic, such that the living room unit often picks up the commands instead.  But that's due to poor fan selection on my part (larger is not better, it turns out) along with an open floor plan and wood flooring.

All this hand-wringing about devices and clouds.... always coming from folks that aren't actually using it.  As if their doom-saying could somehow be passed off as knowledgeable advice.  It's not.  But let's note how many are already using all kinds of other things that have the ability to track activities.  Phones, web browsers, search engines, etc.

I too would use a local voice service and avoid cloud services, if effective options existed.  Thus far they haven't materialized.
 
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
Personally, I couldn't care much less about voice control.  I have a family of 8 in this house - I don't need any more talking, and I certainly don't need any more voice feedback!  I'm fine with buttons and scene controls to accomplish what I want.  Of course, that's where the power of the cloud really comes in - for voice processing, and simplifying getting different devices to talk to each other.
 
I also don't see where whether or not you use cloud-based technology necessarily changes your understanding of how other companies store or use data about you.  Even the people who use it all day every day probably have no real understanding of what's done with the information collected, and I doubt many people can accurately predict exactly what'll be hacked next or used against them next - it's a choice people are free to make as to whether or not they allow their every activity to be tracked and stored by someone else's servers.
 

Deane Johnson

Active Member
I hear a ton of commentary about lack of privacy from many sources.  What would be some examples of privacy being a necessity.  I'm not saying the need isn't there, I'd just like to hear some thoughts on why it's important.  I'm rather careless about it and fairly unconcerned.  What am I risking possibly happening?  I could probably use some education here and you guys seem to be the right group to ask.  
 

vc1234

Active Member
wkearney99 said:
The latency for Alexa commands to round trip from the device, to the cloud, to Homeseer, back to the house is, on average, under 3 seconds.  No kidding.  "Alexa, turn on Office ceiling" just now was as instantaneous as I'd expect from anything on site.  The only time it's not fluidly instantaneous is if the command was garbled.  As in, poorly pronounced, while moving quickly
between areas (like while hurrying down stairs and the command being picked up by three different devices) or ambient noise overwhelming it.  The professional-grade stove hood fan bugs the heck out of the kitchen unit's mic, such that the living room unit often picks up the commands instead.  But that's due to poor fan selection on my part (larger is not better, it turns out) along with an open floor plan and wood flooring.

All this hand-wringing about devices and clouds.... always coming from folks that aren't actually using it.  As if their doom-saying could somehow be passed off as knowledgeable advice.  It's not.  But let's note how many are already using all kinds of other things that have the ability to track activities.  Phones, web browsers, search engines, etc.

I too would use a local voice service and avoid cloud services, if effective options existed.  Thus far they haven't materialized.
 
 
On average, any latency above 100ms is noticeable by a human, gamers require latencies below or about 50ms. One's level of tolerance and acceptance of course varies too, but below 3 seconds is  rather a generous allowance for a simple switching action.
 
As I mentioned, my scepticism about cloud services reliability and guaranteed latency comes from personal experience with the major cloud services offerings (so not "always").  E.g. in one of our services a transaction maximum allowable latency has to be below 6-7ms. The cloud provider "guarantees" that their contribution won't exceed 1ms.  The guarantee is violated roughly every 10 seconds resulting in lost revenue. According to a cost benefit analysis, an in-house infrastructure would be more expensive nevertheless so we have to live with what the cloud provider (an oligopolist) can deliver. But a HA user does have an alternative not to use a cloud service ;)
 
I am not sure how to explain in a simple way why privacy concerns may be important to some people so I won't. I'll just remark that a browser or a phone can be "hardened" well enough in the practical sense, without being too paranoid about it, but how do you harden a permanent voice recorder transmitting your commands and perhaps accidental speech to the AWS cloud ?  Of course, if you could not care less about privacy, that is not a problem, then.
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
Milliseconds aren't going to make the difference when it comes to a voice activation of a household lighting arrangement.   

That said, this is one area where Lutron's occupancy sensors are very good.  They're set up to communicate locally between the sensors and the lights through the Ra2 bridge.  No round-tripping through anywhere else.  I do pick up on their triggering (both for occupancy and vacancy detection) to make use of that for other automation events.  But for walking into a dark space it's helpful to have lighting brought up as quickly as possible.  I'd argue very few "local" automation systems are going to be "fast enough" to start talking about millisecond performance.  

As for latency, for commercial/business online database activity it most certainly matters.  But is that scenario similar enough to use it as an argument against cloud services for residential lighting?  No, it's not.  Would it scale enough to be viable for millions of residences, during peak use times?  Again, the scale here is likely exponentially smaller than commercial transaction requirements.  

The risks are certainly present. 

Outages, be they local uplink or any number of the interconnected services, certainly have the potential to impact performance. 

Awareness by others has always been a risk, for any kind of activities.  Does "the database" knowing if you're home/away present more risk than just casual observation?  As in, the database knows if you're away... so does anyone else noticing your lights/car/mail/paper delivery has changed.  Should you stop using any of those because someone, somewhere might be able to tell?

Personal data being manipulated for commercial intents is perhaps a bigger spectre than most folks realize.  This is one area where government regulation is woefully lacking.  Lots of industries in the past have had consolidation/monopoly issues.  Eventually the market gets forced to sort them out.  This is one reason I generally take a hard-pass on anything google touches.  There's some stuff that's unavoidable at this point, but that doesn't mean it'll stay that way.  
 
Are these enough concerns to panic about?  Some folks want to get their panties in a bunch over all kinds of fear-mongering.  Does that mean everyone else should deprive themselves of trying new approaches?  
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
wkearney99 said:
Some folks want to get their panties in a bunch over all kinds of fear-mongering.  Does that mean everyone else should deprive themselves of trying new approaches?  
So, someone having an opinion on how information about them is collected means they have their "panties in a bunch"?
 
I'm a pretty boring guy and I expect to be pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things - but there are countless stories where some authority has found cause to enter a person's life and immediately nitpick everything that person has ever done - and to do it based on a given narrative they wish to portray.  A set of facts without context can be twisted all sorts of ways.  I don't lose sleep about this happening, but if I can keep and control my data without much more effort than what would go into giving that info away, I might.  I also don't post facebook pictures of my vacations until I get home!  Some people would rather pay for their email than get a gmail account for free that's supported by google scanning your email and presenting ads based on what's in there.  We've already seen stories of baby monitors getting hacked and peoples' kids messed with... anything you open to the outside world can be used against you.
 
Then there's reliability and longevity.  How many people banked on Iris before it shut down?  Or what if you're a bit rural?  Yesterday Comcast was having issues and I couldn't get my damned garage door to close because it relies on an app on my phone talking to the cloud and sending a signal back to my house.  Plenty of reasons someone may wish to keep things more local and private.  Doesn't mean they're paranoid or into big conspiracies.
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
"countless".  Really?  So you're not losing sleep over it, but you're willing to repeat the lies? 

Ask yourself what's the bigger problem, the insignificant risk or being part of an easily manipulated propaganda machine.  Because that smacks a whole lot of the latter...
 

ano

Senior Member
I have all the devices (50+) controlled by Alexa, and speed has never been a problem. The only "real" problem is remembering the name of each device. Was it Office Light or Office Lamp or Office Desk Lamp?  But this is not a "smart home" its a remote control home, and there is nothing wrong with that.
 
Is the "smart home" dead?  I would contend that the smart home was never "alive." CQC, HomeSeer, and other products are very niche products for the 0.05% of the population that has that interest. That isn't a bad thing either. Basically creating a "smart house" is beyond the skills of 99% of the population. Controlling things with Alexa?  Maybe 40% of people can do that.
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
ano said:
I have all the devices (50+) controlled by Alexa, and speed has never been a problem. The only "real" problem is remembering the name of each device. Was it Office Light or Office Lamp or Office Desk Lamp?  
 
This.  Device naming is more tedious than you might think. 
 
How many times have you heard "I'm sorry, multiple device share the name..." prompt?  Kitchen sink, kitchen ceiling, kitchen cabinets. 

Rooms, floors, areas... not everything has the same meaning across all contexts.  Turn off the kitchen, means... what?  Just the lights, or any smart devices capable of an on/off state?
 
If you're living in a small house/apartment it's easy, as you're not likely to have more than a handful of rooms, often with only one or two controllable devices.
 
But when you get into a multi-story house with 4+ bedrooms it becomes.. challenging.  What the architect named a lighting circuit might not be voice-ready.  "Lower level recessed ceiling lights" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.  Then there's the longer-term challenge of automation using names might be problematic for later owners.  Bedrooms named after kids, his/her items, etc.
 
I dearly wish Alexa had a "what devices are in this room" command, or something to that effect.    That and support for multiple names for the SAME device.  It's a bit of a hack using HS3 virtual devices as those introduce other potential problems like triggering the same device multiple times. 

The hype machine loves to gin up nonsense like something "is dead".  Controversy drives attention and that translates to revenue, be it unit sales or advertising.
 

Deane Johnson

Active Member
I learned a new one Alexa responds to with some devices.  Instead of "Turn the Basements Light Off",  I said "Kill the Basements Lights" and they went off. Surprised me that it worked.
 

tmbrown97

Senior Member
wkearney99 - It says a lot about a man who thinks he has the only valid opinion and then tries to put down others who he doesn't agree with.  For as long as I can remember you coming around these parts, that's been your style.
 
There's certainly no propaganda machine influencing my thoughts - it's based on actual knowledge and understanding of how these systems work and the ways in which they've actually been used - but hey - I don't care how you control your house or what you do with your data - that's your choice.
 
I do consciously use some cloud based systems, but not for anything I care much about or would care if I lost tomorrow - but at the same time, I look at ways I could keep that local control and avoid having my daily routines controlled by, dependent upon, or tracked by any other companies.  That's my choice.
 
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