Josh.ai is a home-automation start-up that touts its natural-language processing (NLP) as a distinct advantage over other voice-controllable smart-home systems. At CEDIA 2017, the company will introduce a “distributed” approach to whole-house control, whereby a full-featured IoT hub, the new Josh Micro, could grace every room of the house, or just one of them.
It’s a different model than Josh’s original server-based solution featuring a Mac Mini loaded with proprietary home-control and voice-processing software. That product sits in a central equipment rack somewhere in the home, accessible via third-party speech-recognition devices like Echo, Google Home or smart-phone apps.
The product also integrates with third-party controller, so the Josh system can be controlled with someone else’s touchscreen or remote control.
The Micro, on the other hand, packs the full processing punch in a little pod that doubles as a user interface and environmental monitor.
Josh lists these manufacturers as integration partners, but the list continues to grow. Items marked * are in development.
- Lutron RadioRA2
- Lutron HomeWorks QS
- Lutron Shades
- Lutron HVAC
- Lutron Contact Closures
- Crestron Lights
- Crestron Shades
- Crestron Scenes
- Nest Thermostats
- Nest Cams / Dropcams
- Vantage *
- Meridian Sooloos
- Kaleidescape *
- Somfy *
- Chamberlain MyQ
- iAqualink / Jandy *
- Amazon Echo
- Schlage Locks
- Global Caché
- Honeywell Thermostats *
- Ecobee Thermostats
- Big Ass Fans
- Philips Hue
- Belkin WeMo
- EnGenius Cameras
- Lutron Caséta
- Z-Wave Devices
- Luma Cameras
- Google Home
- Lockitron *
- Apple TV
- Sony Smart TV *
- Samsung TV *
- Comcast XFINITY *
- TiVo *
The device, which looks like a squished Google Home, contains far-field microphones, speakers, touch-capacitive surfaces and sensors. The sensors monitor for motion, touch, temperature, humidity and ambient lighting. Any of these elements can trigger events and home-automation scenes.
The digital surfaces include the top of the Micro, as well as the LED ring that encircles it. By default a single tap activates the microphone and a double tap mutes the device, but users can configure it to do anything they want. For example, a unit placed at the front door could enact the home command with one tap, and away with two.
The touch-sensitive RGB ring around the Micro serves as a control dial that changes purpose depending on the current function. If you’re listening to music, for example, the dial would control volume. For lighting adjustments, use the dial to dim or brighten.
“In many rooms this replaces traditional keypads,” the company claims.
In addition, each pod is room-aware, meaning a user can simply say, “Turn on the lights” to flip the virtual switch in the room.
Josh can communicate over Wi-Fi or hardwired Ethernet (with PoE).
The Price of Josh.ai Micro: Still Expensive But …
Because Josh.ai systems are sold exclusively through professional home-technology installers who set their own pricing, the company wishes not to publish “suggested retail prices” for the Josh Micro.
The original Josh system was estimated to cost consumers between $15,000 and $20,000 for the server and licenses alone, minus labor and any attached devices. That price tag put Josh at the very high end of professionally-installed home-automation systems.
The Micro is far less expensive than the original server, but the price still puts it at the high end of the market for professional home-automation systems.
On the other hand, users need not pay for many of the “peripherals” already built into the Micro, including voice control and feedback, touch controls, and environmental sensors.
With a full-blown processor built into every unit, each Micro can communicate with every other hub in the home, sharing processing power along the way. An added benefit of this model is system redundancy. If one Micro goes offline, any of the others can pitch in.
Furthermore, since each Micro has its own NLP engine, voice commands can be processed super-fast, without having to rely on a network of third-party voice assistants and the cloud.
Still, it becomes a rather costly endeavor to install a Micro in every room – especially those that don’t need the full processing power of a complete home automation system and speech-recognition engine, which is most of them.
Q&A with Alex Capecelatro, Josh.ai CEO
Once we received the PR from Josh, we had a few follow-up questions for co-founder and CEO Alex Capecelatro, who offered additional information about the new Micro. His responses have been redacted for the broader audience, and edited for clarity.
CE Pro: Does the Micro do the same thing as Josh Classic in terms of all the software features?
AC: Yes, Josh Micro is running the entire software system essentially replacing the need for the Mac Mini. This is part of our effort to make Josh more readily available instead of the high price point we started with.
For large homes, we find integrators might still choose the Mac Mini option in terms of being a more powerful processor dedicated for the rack. The classic Josh system and Josh Micro can work together in the same home, no problem.
More-so, Josh Micro extends the software in a few ways. For example, Josh Micro is location aware, and the user can therefore say, “Turn off the lights,” and the system will know to just turn off the lights in that room as opposed to asking for more information. Josh Micro also contains other sensors that can be used as triggers to unlock new software features not previously available.
Can you comment on the far-field mics? Any particular technology there? As good as Echo?
We've spent the last 12 months engineering and refining our own far-field mic array purpose-built for the home. We don't have specific data comparing the Micro against the Echo, but from preliminary tests we're feeling very confident about it.
Are speech-recognition and other services processed local?
Our goal has always been to process everything locally that we can. Of course, a cloud environment exists for remote access and monitoring. While we're running the device discovery, communication, and language processing on the device, some systems like streaming Spotify or Netflix have to go to the cloud. We're currently planning to ship with the speech-to-text portion in the cloud as the accuracy is still much better than anything possible locally today, but we expect that to change in the near future as local speech-recognition technology continues to improve.
You note that Josh integrates with Crestron and Control4. How does that work?
We have a series of Crestron modules we've built making it easy to hook Josh into a Crestron system. By pulling in lighting and shades data, we can take advantage of the Josh natural language control at a device, room, floor, or entire building level.
By hooking into audio/video integration, we can enable commands such as, “Watch ‘Stranger Things’” to both activate Crestron switches as well as deep-link right to the set-top box. Of course, we can voice-trigger any scene as well.
With Control4 it's very similar, with the difference being in how our Control4 driver is set up (developed with the help of BlackWire). With Control4, our system automatically pulls in the data and maintains a real-time communication stream so we know when devices are triggered from either system. This capability is important for maintaining our UI. Our app will display the correct information, and our voice control will know the correct values of devices.
Can you mix and match Josh Micro with Alexa, Google Home and Siri mics/voice processing?
Yes, Josh Micro can be used in conjunction with other microphones. We currently have the ability to hook into Alexa/Google Home using the command, “Alexa, tell Josh” or, “Hey Google, tell Josh.” Siri is not yet open to this type of integration as far as we're aware.