While voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant are taking over the home, there are still some users who don't want to talk to their devices. The French company Netatmo, maker of a number of smart home products, wants users to text—not speak—to control their devices no matter where they are. At CES, Netatmo debuted its Smart Home Bot, a digital assistant of sorts that lives within Facebook Messenger that users can text commands to, thereby controlling their smart home devices.
The foundation for the Smart Home Bot comes from Netatmo's new "with Netatmo" program. Currently, Netatmo devices are compatible with various virtual assistants including Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. But Netatmo's new program will encourage other companies to partner with Netatmo to make devices that work with the company's software as well as the Smart Home Bot. At CES, Netatmo is showing off a few of the newest "with Netatmo" devices, including smart lights, blinds, and radiators that will debut in 2018.
Any of the "with Netatmo" devices, as well as Netatmo's own products, can be controlled through the Smart Home Bot via Facebook Messenger. Essentially, it's a contact that uses artificial intelligence algorithms and natural language processing to decipher text commands you send it to control different smart home devices. You could text the bot, "Who is at home?" when you're out, and it'll reply with photos of the individuals that the Netatmo Welcome recognized in your home. You could also text a command to set your home's temperature to 70 degrees and a "with Netatmo" smart thermostat would be set to your liking shortly thereafter.
Netatmo also claims that the Smart Home Bot will eventually be able to control multiple devices at once, depending on the command. For example, texting, "I'm leaving," could close the blinds, turn off the lights, and reduce the thermostat's temperature all in one go. Netatmo didn't explain how this will work, particularly whether users will have to create a preset for such a situation and assign it a command or if the bot learns your habits over time.
This isn't the first instance of text commands being used to start smart devices. LG showed off HomeChat, a similar text-controlled bot built into the popular Line messaging app, a few years ago at CES. However in recent years, text-based bots have been pushed to the back burner as virtual, voice-controlled assistants became more popular.
Netatmo believes the Smart Home Bot will give users "greater mobility and privacy." Voice commands are convenient for hands-free use, but many users have questions about the privacy implications of devices that are always listening. While texting requires your full attention and your fingertips, commands can be sent from anywhere, allowing you to control your home's devices when you're not near those devices. It's also less likely for you to accidentally text the Smart Home Bot an incorrect command or something you didn't want it to know at all. The beta version of Netatmo's Smart Home Bot is available in English now, with more languages to come soon.