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Siri-ous Home Control

Homeowners in Little Rock, AR, are learning that there’s an easier way to control their electronic systems: just talk to them.

Arkansas Integrator Develops Voice Command Interface via iPhone’s Personal Assistant

After a couple of overnight programming sessions, Matthew Carnes, of Carnes Audio Visual (CAV), had a working interface for his Siri/Crestron system, which he then installed in the CAV showroom in
Little Rock, AR.
Homeowners in Little Rock, AR, are learning that there’s an easier way to control their electronic systems: just talk to them.

They are asking their home systems to do what they want in a normal voice with everyday language, using commands like “turn on the lights in the kitchen,” “turn on the TV,” or “set the temperature to 70 degrees.”

Thanks to an Apple Siri interface for Crestron control systems, developed by Matthew Carnes, president of Little Rock-based Carnes Audio Visual (CAV), the system will follow almost any simple command spoken into an iPhone, and then let you know when the action has taken place. “I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if I could interface Siri with a Crestron processor,” he said. A couple of overnight programming sessions, and he had a working interface, which he then installed in the CAV showroom. He began offering the system to customers in January, and he now has two completed installations with a third in the works.

In the first two homes, Carnes added the Siri interface to existing Crestron installations, but the third will be a brandnew system. In one, completed during the first week of April, clients can control a six-room distributed AV system, including a media room with a projectiondesign projector, a master bedroom with a 70-inch plasma, a 16-zone audio system and a Crestron lighting system with more than 40 dimmers. In the other, completed in late April, clients control four zones of video, seven zones of audio, and a multi-zone heating and air conditioning system. “These clients are thoroughly enjoying their systems and are constantly showing it off,” Carnes said. He is now adding two more video and four more audio zones to a pool house in the second system, all controlled with the Siri-based voice control.

The Siri/Crestron system will follow almost any simple command spoken into an iPhone, and then, let users know when the action has taken place.

Creating the interface

Carnes said coding the Siri/Crestron interface was not a particularly challenging project. The hard part was understanding the signal flow needed to make the system work.

Carnes created two modules–one that resides on the home Wi-Fi server to catch and route the Siri data, and one added to the Crestron system to accept the data and return the “action taken” or “not understood” message that Siri speaks. For example, if the Crestron system, responding to a Siri command, turns the volume of the audio system to 75 percent, Siri will say, “The audio volume is at 75 percent.”

The combined system works quite well together, according to Carnes. “Say I give a command to ‘switch to ESPN,’” he explained. “Siri and Crestron together will determine that I have to be on the cable box and a particular channel on that box, then they will switch both in turn.”

Once Carnes had a working prototype, he began showing it to CAV customers. “The response was overwhelming,” he said. “Most of our clients leave with a better understanding of how the Crestron technology can help create a connected home and make life more enjoyable.”

The system does not do everything Carnes would like it to do, and he’s working on a version that will include component-level commands such as “play” and “pause” for a Blu-ray Disc player. He has also been working on a scheduling module that could control a landscape irrigation system or turn a thermostat up and down.

Matthew Carnes, president of Carnes Audio Visual, developed a Crestron interface utilizing Apple’s Siri personal assistant.So far, the more basic but very useful system will run with any 2-Series or 3-Series Crestron processor, and he expects it to work with little or no modification, on future Siri devices as Apple introduces them. “We’re looking forward to iOS 6,” he said, as that should make his system practical for the iPad.

Carnes said Crestron’s open system and the manner in which it handles programming, with the SMPL and SMPL+ protocols, helped make this project workable. “Without Crestron’s big-picture approach to automation, I would have needed to write code for any number of third-party devices to accomplish setting lighting levels, adjusting my thermostat, turning on my projector, surround sound receiver, and sources. Crestron made it easy to integrate all of those commands in one simple program.”

Long term, Carnes said he’d like to offer his Siri interface to other Crestron dealers for use in their system installations. “Before I do that, however, I want to make sure we can handle any technical support issues that may come up. We still consider this a beta product.”

Don Kreski is owner of Kreski Marketing Consultants Inc. in Mt. Prospect, IL.