If you run in IoT circles, chances are you’ve bumped into Josh.ai by JStar, a start-up that has made itself quite visible over the past year – shaking hands, making friends and tweeting about all things home automation and voice-control.
The visibility might have something to do with the high profiles of Josh co-founders Alex Capecelatro (CEO), who founded the social-networking app Yeti, and Tim Gill (CTO), who founded Quark, the graphics giant.
At the recent CEDIA Business Xchange, hosted by the trade association for the home-technology integrator channel, Capecelatro finally revealed concrete plans for Josh’s natural language processing (NLP) technology in the connected home.
The plans surprised the pre-show audience of about 50 manufacturers, reps, dealers and others allied with the home-technology channel.
The first implementation of Josh.ai will be a box that enables users to control select smart-home devices by voice, speaking in “natural language” with commands such as, “Open the garage door and turn on the kitchen lights” or “Play season two, episode 10 Game of Thrones.”
That wasn’t the surprise. The shocker was that the Josh box will retail for $14,000. It will be sold only through home technology integrators, not direct to consumers. And only 100 lucky, early-adopting customers will be privileged enough to own one this year.
By limiting the availability of Josh, Capecelatro tells CE Pro, the company hopes to heighten the appeal for trendsetters “who want something nobody else has.”
A Skeptical Audience
Calling Amazon Echo a “cute little toy” unworthy of the premium experience delivered by integrators, Capecelatro told the group that Josh favors near-field communications – that is, pressing a button on your smart phone and speaking into it – rather than the far-field, always-listening technology employed by Echo.
Echo can be inaccurate, he said in less-glowing terms.
If users want an on-demand experience with Josh, Capecelatro explained, they can always configure iPads to be always listening.
“The dream,” Capecelatro says, “is to have embedded microphones throughout the home,” but until then Josh is focusing on near-field chat.
The small demonstration Josh provided at the conference featured Sonos speakers, Philips Hue smart bulbs and little fans plugged into Wi-Fi outlets, leading many to wonder why anyone would want a $14,000 accessory for a bunch of $100 DIY devices.
After the demo, Capecelatro explained that Josh was working to integrate with premium products such as Kaleidescape movie servers and Crestron home automation systems, but those products would be difficult to demonstrate in a small breakfast room with weak Internet signals.
Indeed, in his own 10,000-square-foot home in Beverly Hills (shown in video above), Capecelatro uses Josh to control a Lutron Radio Ra 2 lighting-control system.
The wily veterans in the audience were skeptical. One well-known integrator who spoke up said he was “surprised by your arrogance.”
Capecelatro took the hit like a pro, promising to work with the CEDIA community to continue improving on the product.
In any case, CEDIA board member Hagai Feiner, principal of the network provider Access Networks, praised the CEDIA organization for bringing new vendors into the home-technology channel and helping them succeed in the market.
It's not clear what Josh's end-game is. Capecelatro tells us the company's competitive advantage is its natural language processing engine, three years in the making. Clearly, a $14,000 box is just the beginning.