If your house could talk to you, what would it say?

IMG_5300.jpg credit: tompagenet

Suppose for a minute that your house could talk. What would you want it to tell you?

That’s a question I’ve been considering over the past few years because unlike most of you, my house can talk! There are ceiling speakers in many rooms, the house knows which rooms are occupied, and it talks to you when it has information it needs to communicate.

I’ve experimented with many different announcements over the years, some of which turned out to be useless, some which just became annoying after too many repetitions, and a few that withstood the test of time and daily usage to become fixtures in my smart home.

Here’s a list of some of the current announcements my house makes:-

​1. It announces who is calling. “Talking Caller ID” if you will, except this one has a database behind it and whenever it sees a number it doesn’t recognize it will ask you who it is so it knows how to speak their name next time. (The asking is done over instant messenger or email, a separate topic I’ll write about soon.)

​2. It announces that you have missed phone calls. It does this when the house has been unoccupied for a while and you walk back in. It doesn’t do it right away because you are probably carrying stuff and banging doors. Instead, it waits a moment and then when it detects you moving again in the house it announces all the calls you missed while you were away.

​3. It announces the weather for the day in the morning when you get up and head into the bathroom.

​4. It announces the weather for tomorrow if it’s already afternoon time today and you turn on any media zone. But, of course, only if it hasn’t announced it for a while (repetition gets boring fast!).

​5. It can announce the artist and title of each song as it is playing. A simple chat command ‘dj on’ enables this feature. At the start of every song it ‘ducks’ the music, announces the song, and then brings the volume back up, just like a professional voice-over announcement.

​6. It tells you if the traffic is bad on the way into Bellevue this morning, where ‘bad’ is defined as more than seven minutes above the average for this day of the week. Knowing that it’s bad on Monday morning isn’t useful. Knowing that it’s much worse than normal is.

​7. It announces the time every 10 minutes in the bathroom in the morning rush helping everyone stay on track.

​8. It announces when it’s time to wake up using a schedule defined on Google calendar. This means you can adjust the alarm clock as easily as you can change an appointment, no fiddly black on black buttons under an alarm clock to push. It also means that the alarm can handle weekdays vs weekends and holidays.

​9. It announces if there has been fresh snow overnight at the local ski resort: time to go skiing! But it also warns you if the pass is closed as it sometimes is in winter after a heavy snowfall overnight.

​10. It announces that it’s garbage collection day if it thinks you haven’t taken the trash out.

​11. It warns you that the garage doors are open if you try to go upstairs in the evening leaving them open. That’s a bit like HAL controlling the pod bar doors but in reverse: it tells you to close them!

​12. It complains that the fish are hungry if nobody has opened the door to their tank for 24 hours. Each 6 hours after that the announcements become more urgent, culminating in a “mine mine mine” audio clip from Finding Nemo. (All our other pets do a fine job at indicating their hunger but the fish lacked this ability until now).

​13. It says “good night” when you turn the lights off at the end of the day :)

​14. You can also ask it to remind you of anything with a verbal reminder, e.g. the command ‘remind me in 15 minutes say “Turn oven on” in study’ does exactly what it says.

​15. It tells us if anyone goes into our barn unexpectedly.

​16. It can also scare intruders when it detects unusual motion that doesn’t fit the normal pattern - nobody expects a house to talk to them when they are burglarizing it! Fortunately I’ve never had to test this feature.

Crucially it does very few of these announcements when it detects that we have visitors. Party music should not be interrupted by home automation announcements! It also learned early on that any announcement in a bedroom when the owners were asleep was a very, very bad idea punishable by instant termination and recompilation!

If you have any questions about these or other features of what I believe is the “World’s Smartest House” please feel free to comment below or on the relevant page.

Tue Sep 14 2010 07:23:50 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

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