Aaron Emigh was on to something when he started Brilliant Home Technology back in 2014. He could see that the smart home boom was imminent, and he knew that the existing control methods – i.e. a collection of apps on your smartphone – weren’t going to take the genre mainstream.
“I was very interested in smart home technology but, while I realised that the devices themselves could be useful, the experience of having them in your home left a lot to be desired,” he explains. “I developed a very strong point of view that ambient computing was what was needed. The mobile phone is not an appropriate interface for the smart home, when you’re in the home. It’s an awkward experience.”
Emigh could envision a device that would make controlling your smart home as simple as using a light-switch, while at the same time featuring the futuristic conversational control methods that people has always seen in near future sci-fi movies.
“In thinking about what was needed to make that user experience a positive, more intuitive one – we took a step backwards,” Emigh tells us. “I felt strongly that a mixed mode interface of both voice and touch was what was needed. And it needed to be ubiquitous – i.e in every room. And, in order to be in every room, it needed to be in a device that’s in every room so a light switch was a natural point of attack for us.”
A light switch was a natural point of attack for us
The result is the Brilliant's smart home controller, which replaces your light switch panel on the wall, using existing wires, and can be installed in less than five minutes. It has a 5-inch 720p touchscreen and physical controls on the side – grooves that replicate the amount of light switches it’s replacing. A camera turns the device into an intercom when you install more than one, you can connect to a Ring doorbell for live video streams, or have motion detection automatically turn smart lights on and off.
It even packs in Alexa – as well as a native voice assistant – for no-touch controls. With support for Nest, Honeywell, Sonos, Hue and more on offer – as well as IFTTT compatibility, it’s… well… it’s essentially a more stylish Echo Show or Spot, albeit one that plugs directly in the wall.
In the time between Emigh turning his vision into a reality – raising over $25 million in funding along the way – Amazon has changed the landscape of smart home controls and already has a bunch of devices out there, in millions of homes, essentially doing what Brilliant set out to achieve. And there’s also dedicated light switches packing Alexa on offer now – from the likes of Ecobee and iDevices – that replace your old ones, using the existing wiring… and they are already on sale.
Brilliant hasn’t yet shipped (although the pre-sale is totally sold out). But Emigh isn’t worried.
“We’re not going to be the only point in your house for Alexa and I think that’s fine," he says. "We don’t feel that having Alexa built in equates to the same class of home control product. We’ve invested very heavily in direct integrations. Voice assistants are an important part, but I find them a little bit clumsy still. I think that when you have voice only you are pretty restricted.”
And he’s right – Brilliant is much more than a light switch with Alexa baked-in. It’s a smart home hub, with an already impressive list of compatibilities, that is just ridiculously stylish next to the competition. Its creator also knows that, in order to be a success, it needs to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the smart home world. Out of the box, for example, the Brilliant Control will boast both Alexa and Google Home integrations, and there’s a HomeKit plan too.
“I believe in a multi-assistant future,” Emigh says. “Long term, just as you don’t have one friend who you talk to about everything, you won’t just have one assistant who does everything for you.
“When we first started it was before Alexa had launched and it was while we were in the design stage that the Alexa Voice Service was announced. We immediately engaged with them and became a partner. So our plan did change. And our plan is to support the major voice assistant platforms and leverage all the investment they making.”
Emigh is also honest when it comes to admitting that Brilliant won’t be the only company looking to make your smart home controls easier. And he’s certain that we’re just at the start of an evolution of a new way of living.
All homes are going to be smart, that’s just something that will be expected – so it’ll just be ‘a home’ at that point
“It’s absolutely inevitable that smart home stops being a thing,” he explains. “Today, you don’t talk about buying a home and say, ‘I’m going to buy one of those heated homes,’ because all homes are heated – it’s a given. All homes are going to be smart, that’s just something that will be expected – so it’ll just be ‘a home’ at that point.”
Brilliant is planning on shipping all pre-orders in May with a wider release planned for the summer. The Brilliant Control costs $250 – although the first wave of new orders will be $20 off of that price. It’s US only for now but we’re assured that a UK launch is planned for 2019.