We’ve all become accustomed to our smartphones, and many of us make use of the built-in assistant – Siri in the case of iOS, Cortana for Android. But now a young US company is set to take voice control to the next level in smart houses, and by extension smart yachts. Named Josh, the system is an artificial intelligence personality that can be linked to control almost anything and everything in your home or yacht domestic system through natural language voice commands.

Josh is the brainchild of Alex Capecelatro and Tim Gill, both of whom have frighteningly comprehensive backgrounds in AI and tech start-ups. “The company, JStar, is about two years old,” says CEO Capecelatro, “although we’ve been developing the technology for about five years. We basically said that the experience in the home should be a truly smart experience that’s natural, intuitive and beautiful, and everything should just work the way you want it to. Voice control is central to what we’ve done and the idea is to enable a really easy user interface and voice control for everything from music and lighting to locks and HVAC – basically all the smart-home stuff.”

The system operates using voice commands either through iOS or Android smartphones, or by using far-field microphones such as Amazon Echo, and it also offers a full web interface. You activate it the same way you would Siri, with an initial command to wake the system up followed by a command or series of commands to control your environment. Crucially, the system uses both natural language processing and deep learning to broaden the way you can communicate with it. “Multiple commands are one of our unique IP components,” Capecelatro explains. “I think we’re the only ones who can do that, so it’s the idea of just rattling off whatever it is you want to do. In a residential scenario it might be something like ‘open the garage, turn on the fans, open the shades and make the music a little louder’. It’s that natural ability to use multi-sequence commands. We don’t have every possible way that anyone could say anything yet, but the system is built around a learning mechanism so if you set it in a way the system doesn’t understand the idea is that it will begin to learn and get smarter. If you wanted, in a fit of rage, to say ‘turn the effing music off’ you can do that!’

The system is based on a Mac Mini which is plugged into the LAN, and once on the local network it discovers all the connected devices. It has been programmed to work with all the main domotic systems such as Crestron, Lutron, Sonos, Meridian and Autonomic. “We basically abstract the concept that there are floors in the home, that floors have rooms, that rooms have devices and that devices have various states,” says Capecelatro. “So we grab the Lutron information, for example, and see there are rooms called ‘kitchen’ and ‘living room’ and it naturally makes sense that you can say ‘turn on the lights in the living room’ – that’s all neatly baked in. You can add scenes as well, so if you want a custom ‘good morning’ scene or a scene that activates a number of devices in one go, that’s all done on the website using a nice drag-and-drop interface.”

The AI component of Josh also hints at the push toward far more intelligent interaction, whereby the system can not only pick up on problems within systems – a thermostat going wrong, for example – but take action to correct it via the Internet of Things concept. It’s redolent of Spike Jonze’s film Her, and in fact Gill and Capecelatro did name one of the beta systems Theodore Twombly in homage to movie. “The learning capability is certainly something we’re continuing to develop,” Capecelatro enthuses, “where the system is able to learn patterns and habits so that when you come home after dark you don’t have to say ‘turn on the lights’, it will automatically do that for you.” It is also possible to set several permissions, so children or crew (in the case of a superyacht) aren’t able to access the owner’s cabin, for example.

Although Josh is just starting to ship, it is currently being targeted at larger homes of 10,000 square feet and up and very high-end clientele – exactly the profile of superyachts. Given that superyachts are among the most networked environments on the planet, and that systems such as Crestron and Lutron are commonly used, it seems a natural progression to consider Josh when speccing your yacht. Capecelatro says that they are not shipping the system direct to customers, but rather working with integrators who will offer Josh and who have the knowledge to set up the hardware within the network. I just wish I had Josh to post this story for me and put the kettle on…

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