Patents: Amazon’s Clever Voice-Controlled Light Switch is not Just ‘Alexa Inside’
Amazon’s patent application for voice-controlled light switch describes multiple mics on the faceplate and switch itself, so it can respond based on the position of the speaker (user) and whether the light is on or off.
Amazon has filed a patent application for “voice-controlled light switches.” And no, it’s not just a smart light switch with a microphone, Wi-Fi and Alexa inside.
Instead, the patent application (#20170188437) describes a switch with multiple microphones on the faceplate and the switch itself, along with technology that allows the voice-recognition engine to respond based on the position of the switch.
Although the patent describes multiple form factors for the switch (toggle, paddle, slider, knob), let’s give an example of a traditional toggle.
There might be a mic on the tip of the toggle itself, as well as two mics on the top left and right of the faceplate, and two at the bottom left and right. When the switch is on (up), it aligns with the upper mics. When it’s off, it aligns with the bottom mics.
Based on the alignment of the mics, the speech-recognition engine processes commands differently. For example, if the switch is off, it may be listening only for a wake-up word. In this way, the mics would not respond to commands such, as “What is the weather?”
If the switch is up (on), then its ears perk up, listening for a broad range of commands like any other Alexa device.
The technology involves changes in the signal-to-noise ratio to either increase or decrease the “listening” sensitivity based on the status of a switch.
There’s a whole lot of other stuff in the patent application, like directionality of the mics, that would suggest how a house full of these smart switches could parse commands based on where the user is, and which switches (lights) are on.
Oddly, the patent describes how the smart switch can control the attached load via voice, but that would seem to defeat the purpose: The toggle would then be stuck in the "wrong" listening position.
So if it doesn't make sense to use the technology to control the attached load, why not just give us a retrofittable faceplate with the same technology, plus a tiny mic that affixes to the toggle or paddle? It could be powered by touching conductors to the switch beneath, a la SnapPower.
In any case, I'm not sure we’ll be seeing a whole lot of toggle switches in our digital future, but still, the Amazon invention is pretty clever.
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Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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