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Challenges with Voice Assistants and Door Locks

Getting Smart Door Locks to work well with Voice Assistants is not an easy task. While the commands themselves are easy enough to learn, what goes on behind the curtain is much more complex. Whether it’s response time, reliability, or security, there are three general challenges with Voice Assistants and door locks. Keep scrolling to explore these challenges in more detail.

As a refresher for new readers, you can learn more about Smart Door Lock basics and how Voice Assistants and Smart Door Locks work together with three simple commands. For today’s post, we’ll explore why it’s tough to make really good Smart Door Lock experiences for Voice Assistants.

Why Bother Connecting Voice Assistants with Smart Door Locks?

Connecting a Voice Assistant with a Smart Door Lock creates a pretty magical experience. By just your voice alone, you’re able to lock and unlock your doors. Just imagine heading for bed, and when you get to the top of the stairs, realizing you didn’t manually lock your front door. When you have a Voice Assistant connected to a Smart Door Lock, forgetting if you forgot to lock the door isn’t a problem anymore.

So far so good right? That’s not the best part though. Really the best part of using a Smart Door Lock with a Voice Assistant is asking if the door is locked. I use this command all the time: “Is the door locked?” It saves me piece of mind and the effort from checking the door myself. This command is really the unsung hero of Smart Door Locks.

Unlike Smart Lights and Smart Plugs, Smart Door Locks are a much harder to get right. Voice Assistants have trouble creating the perfect user experience, or even a similar experience amongst different brands with Smart Door Locks. 

Challenges with Voice Assistants and Door Locks

Voice Assistants need to address three challenges with Start Door Locks that are different from your typical smart device.

Challenge 1: Voice Assistant Response Time

In terms of response time, users have two expectations for Voice Assistants. The first is Voice Assistants need to respond back to users quickly—ideally within a few seconds. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. No one wants to wait a long time for a Voice Assistant to respond back to you, otherwise it defeats the whole purpose of convenience.

The second expectation is that the Voice Assistant interaction itself needs to mirror a real conversation. Say you’re talking to your friend Bob. After you asked Bob a question, what if he just sat there for a minute or so before responding—providing no indication that he heard you. You’d think there’s something wrong with Bob. Maybe he didn’t eat his Wheaties this morning, who knows.

Imagine talking to Bob, frozen in time.
Imagine talking to Bob, frozen in time.

Response time matters for Voice Assistants.

I’m sure you’ve experienced a time where a Voice Assistant broke these expectations. For example, Siri waits more than the customary few seconds to respond to you, you then start wondering if something is wrong. Maybe you said something wrong, maybe Siri is broken, maybe the internet is out? Or maybe it’s one of the other hundreds of other what-ifs.

You could also be asking: does waiting actually mean something is really wrong? Not necessarily! Sometimes a request takes a bit longer to complete properly. Voice Assistants are complicated systems. It’s tough to pinpoint what’s really required to answer your request. That said, there’s one major difference between a conversation between you and a Voice Assistant, versus you and your friend Bob.

With Bob, you can ask him what’s going on, or maybe even help out. Not true with a Voice Assistant. At best, you’ll get some sort of response like, “still working,” which doesn’t tell you very much. And if you ask the Voice Assistant another question, you’re not going to get an answer for your original command. You’re stuck simply waiting.

Smart Door Locks are Slow.

So now we know why Voice Assistants need to respond back to users pretty quickly. Why does this matter? For most smart devices, the answer would be that it doesn’t. Smart Lights, for example, usually don’t take more than a second or two to turn on/off or change color. You ask your Voice Assistant to turn on the lights, and a second or two later, the lights turn on and your Voice Assistant lets you know the task is done.

On the other hand, Smart Door Locks can’t possibly have short response times that are comparable to a Smart Light. Smart Door Locks are mechanical devices. They take time to move the physical deadbolt that’s keeping your door locked or unlocked. On average, most door locks seem to take 10 to 15 seconds to lock or unlock themselves. Way longer than the few seconds required for a Smart Light.

This wait time creates a problem for Voice Assistants. How do you smooth over this delay where the user is waiting for a response? Maybe you sing you a song, or casually mention the news/weather? Or have some type of response handy, like, “still waiting… and waiting ….” But as you can see, none of these solutions are great experiences.

Challenge 2: Door Locks have to be reliable

Of all the smart devices in your home, the Smart Door Lock is the only one where reliability is paramount. You can’t have a Smart Door Lock that fails to work, even if its failure rate is low. The implication would be that your door stands a chance of not being locked—and your personal safety becomes compromised.  

What’s more, if you do get a response back from a Voice Assistant that says something along the lines of, “Sorry, the door lock didn’t work. You should go do something about it,” you’re going to be pretty annoyed and will stop using the Voice Assistant. You’ll also have to physically check the lock, something that may not be possible if you’re using this feature remotely. 

Challenge 3: Security is required

lock and key

Unlike Smart Lights, you don’t want just anyone in your home to be able to control your Smart Door Lock. This creates a problem for Voice Assistants. A Voice Assistant is on a device that can be controlled from anywhere in your house, meaning it’s designed for anyone to access it.

Instead, for a Smart Door Lock, you want controls in place to limit who has access. Beyond limiting the access to those in your home, you’ll also want to limit more nefarious scenarios, like a burglar yelling from your window at your Voice Assistant, asking to unlock the door. Therein lies the challenge–your voice assistant needs to ensure specific people only have access to the Smart Door Lock.

How Voice Assistants Tackle These Challenges

To summarize, connecting a Voice Assistant to a Smart Door Lock creates a level of convenience that can’t be overstated. It’s simply magical to not have to physically check if your door is in fact locked (especially for those of you with a multi-story home). But this benefit is not without its challenges. In fact, there are three major obstacles a Voice Assistant must tackle in order to be effective and have a great user experience. Voice Assistants need to offset the response time to complete its task; Voice Assistants need to be 100% reliable; and Voice Assistants need to ensure security where it limits access to the Smart Door Lock.  

So how do Voice Assistants tackle these problems? Check out the next post where we’ll dive into the details of how each of the big three Voice Assistants—Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant—interact with Smart Door Locks. You’ll be surprised with a few blunders from one of these Voice Assistants. See you there. 

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