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Home control hub offers Siri-like voice assistant

Jan 13, 2014  |  Eric Brown

Ivee has begun shipping a $200, Linux-based “Ivee Sleek” home automation hub, offering voice control of WiFi-enabled devices and a Siri-like voice assistant.

Linux-based home automation hubs were everywhere at CES, including Belkin’s updated WeMo devices. Ivee has an interesting twist, however. Like most of these systems, it offers smartphone access to adjusting selected WiFi-enabled lights, locks, and thermostats. However, it also uses voice recognition technology to control connected devices, and includes a Siri-like voice assistant that will answer basic questions about weather, stock quotes, and more.



Ivee’s default clock radio persona

 
Ivee unveiled its Ivee Sleek concept a year ago at CES, and on July 21 nearly quadrupled its $40,000 Kickstarter goal with $159,606 in funding. The device recently began shipping at Staples, and was showcased last week at CES 2014, where support was announced for controlling Staples Connect and Lowe’s Iris smart devices.

The Sleek is equipped with a 4.3-inch display and doubles as a clock radio, just like the somewhat similar looking Chumby. The device wakes to a “Hello Ivee” command, at which point the female voice assistant prompts you for a command. (No, you can’t order it with Scarlett Johannson.)



Ivee Sleek voice system

 
Using a voice recognition system based on AT&T’s “Watson” Speech APIs, Ivee Sleek currently understands and answers questions in 33 categories. The cloud-based voice assistant “will continuously grow, becoming smarter and more personalized to both her owner and her surroundings,” says Ivee.

Unlike most other home automation devices, which offer their own ecosystems of compatible thermostats, lightswitches, and the like, the Ivee Sleek works only with third-party “smart” devices. It can control iControl and Iris thermostats, locks, lights, and home automation hubs. It also supports the Staples Connect hubs from Staples, its current retail partner.

Coming “soon” is support for Nest thermostats, Locktron and Goji locks, Belkin and Philips Hue smart lights, and the SmartThings automation hub. According to a CNET report, the Ivee booth at CES showed demos of the Sleek controlling Hue, Nest, and WeMo devices, as well as Schlage Locks, Smart Plugs, GE Dimmer Switches, the Jasco Fan Switch, and Bali Blinds.

Under the hood, the Ivee Sleek runs Linux on a 400MHz ARM9 processor with 128MB RAM and 256MB flash. The 4.3-inch TFT LCD display has 480 x 272 resolution. Additional features include WiFi (802.11b/g), temperature and light sensors, and a 45mm speaker. Dual beam forming microphones are said to cancel ambient noise and enable commands to be issued from up to 15 feet away.



Ivee Sleek port detail
(click image to enlarge)

The 5.55 x 3.40 x 2.16-inch device includes a USB port that can be used to charge a smartphone, and there’s also a rechargeable battery. A development platform is available that Ivee says is “as open as possible,” and includes an open voice platform.

Ivee also sells $60 Ivee Flex and $40 Ivee Digit clock radios, which lack the ability to control home automation devices. They offer voice response to 30 or 20 voice commands, respectively, for answers like time, date, temperature. They also provide six sleep sounds in the case of the Flex, and three on the Digi.

 
Further information

The Ivee Sleek is available for $230, and is currently being sold for $200 at Staples. More information may be found at the Ivee website, as well as last summer’s Ivee Sleek Kickstarter page.
 

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