The Next Big Step for Control

What will cars be like in 10 years? If you’re not picturing roads full of vehicles driving themselves, you’re missing the big picture—pure and simple. At CES in Las Vegas back in January, there were autonomous concept cars galore; in presentations by tech titans like Intel and Qualcomm, the vision of the future was one from behind the rosy windshield of a smart car on autopilot. But what about the places where we spend the majority of our time? 

As far as headline trends go, it seems as though we’re in something of an innovation lull when it comes to control for our buildings, at least as far as the user experience is concerned. While touchpanel-based systems have essentially been perfected, the general public—which sadly doesn’t embrace technology like we do—is still somewhat timid when it comes to operating them. Voice control came racing in with excitement and promise, but seems to have stalled out. Sure, it broke down barriers to operating technology, but its imprecision and unreliability can sometimes border on farce.

In most cases, what we have now is like cruise control: it’s helpful, but requires a good deal of input and adjustment from the user. The goal, as pointed out by Pete Kolak of Juniper Networks, should be to get to the built environment equivalent of the self-driving vehicle, where all of a room’s systems, from lights to displays, activate automatically for the person who walks in—no button press or spoken command needed. In theory, it shouldn’t be difficult; we have all of the necessary technology to make it happen, and it’s already being done successfully, to a degree. What we need is greater awareness to breed demand, and assertive programmers to help bring it about.

In the meantime, there are a number of exciting trends driving the refinement of control in its more familiar form, and we run through them in the issues of AV Technology. Cloud-based approaches are making systems leaner and nimbler, and drastically simpler to program and set up. They provide the ability to monitor tremendous deployments with fine detail, and are beginning to provide the capability of analyzing system usage patterns at the device level. All of these developments are fantastic news for the technology manager; they mean less time spent on repetitive tasks and more time for envisioning improvements.

As for the users? As the Internet of Things gradually ties together all elements of our homes, offices, and everyplace else, it’s inevitable that we’ll soon be inhabiting buildings that know us, our preferences, and our habits well enough to just react to what we want—no questions asked. Until then, you’ll have to just keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.