We all know about voice assistants. They seem to be everywhere these days. On our phones, or in our homes, they answer random questions we have, they play songs for us, and they operate our smart-home products so that we don’t have to. A few big companies dominate the market for selling smart-home assistants. They all have one thing in common: none of the companies respect our privacy. The assistants record everything we say to them and send it to the cloud. There, our private data is analysed and then stored for future reference. The assistants are not really the product, but we are, or more pointedly, our information is. With the private information Amazon, Google, and the like collect, they can get to know us intimately. To paraphrase the big bad wolf from the story Little Red Riding Hood, “All the better to sell you things, my dear”.
ProKNX, a small, dynamic IoT start-up based in Southern France has decided to take on these big boys. They have been working hard to develop innovative, easy-to-operate, smart home voice-controlled assistants with a difference. These assistants work completely on-device and have no need for the cloud, or even for an Internet connection. This goes against the grain of smart assistants monopolising the market today, such as Alexa and Google Home.
What’s the Big Idea?
Jens Kastensson, CTO of ProKNX, stated that the initial idea for the development of their offline smart home assistants arose because of these serious concerns for the intrusions of these Goliath-esque companies into the privacy of smart home device users.
“We see the fact that these big companies record and store everything we say as an unacceptable compromise. The constant recording of utterances, and the non-stop transference of data to the cloud is a serious breach of privacy for the user. Why should we have to surrender our privacy to faceless corporations in order to use the technology? It was from this pressing concern that our products were conceived.”
Kastensson, and CEO of ProKNX, Christian Kiefel, took it upon themselves to develop a workable solution to support a user’s right to enjoy the comfort of smart home technology without having to deal with the negative aspects of owning a home automation device. Protecting the privacy of the user became their predominant goal. As an added bonus, an offline assistant also helps to protect the environment. The fact that the assistants on the market today send data to the cloud to be analysed and stored for unlimited periods needlessly wastes energy. This increases the carbon footprint of the user.
From the ambitious idea to put the interests of the user first, ProKNX has gone on to develop and successfully sell innovative, high-quality, smart home devices. The first completely offline, voice-controlled smart home assistant called realKNX Aragon was launched in 2019. Initially they targeted integrators and electricians who install world-renown KNX Home Automation systems. The first Aragon design, available in English, German, or French, is wired into a new or existing KNX system. It enables users to control lights, blinds, and heating.
Aragon for the Future
As the Aragon has the capacity to do far more, Kiefel has set a new, very pertinent development in action. Those in need can now use Aragon in their homes as a “call for help” device. The assistant also monitors the habits of residents and sends out a call to a carer if no activity is detected for an unusual period of time. This smart assistant has the potential to change the way the elderly live. It allows them to stay in their homes in familiar surroundings far longer than they can today. This will become more and more important as the percentage of elderly in the population increases dramatically over the next few decades.
In fact, last year Aragon received a prestigious award as one of the best smart home products of the year in Germany. It also won the Audience Choice Award as best new smart home product at the Smarthome Deutschland Conference 2020.
Privacy for Everyone
ProKNX is also in the process of diversifying its product range to reach the general public. The company has created a world-first in the smart-home sector. The device will officially launch in April and will take the smart-home market by storm. It will be a “plug-and-play” offline voice-controlled assistant. It will also allow the user to vocally control smart home devices from the very affordable IKEA Trådfri range, such as lights, blinds, and the recently added Symfonisk speaker made by Sonos. The name of the user-friendly assistant is PRATGLAD, which means “chatty” in Swedish. PRATGLAD can be installed easily by anyone who owns a smart-phone.
How do Aragon and PRATGLAD Work Offline?
Of course, a reasonable question to ask is how Aragon and PRATGLAD function without resorting to the cloud-based analysis like the generic voice-controlled assistants do.
The devices use machine learning and ‘Natural Language Understanding’ to comprehend and respond to commands said in thousands of different ways. This means that all the possible phrases the assistants may hear are stored on the device itself. Therefore, they can work completely offline and have no need to record any data. Both devices can be trained to recognize new words, meaning they are completely customizable. Consequently, if you want to call the lamp on the sideboard “Bob”, go right ahead. Once you have trained them, the smart assistants will know exactly what you are talking about.
ProKNX Gives You a Choice
From its idealistic beginnings, ProKNX has turned its ethical ideals into reality. Users can now enjoy all the comforts of a smart home assistant without giving up any of their privacy. As their slogan proudly states: “What’s said at home, stays at home”. Welcome to the future of vocal assistants, where surrendering your privacy is not an obligation.