Tyler Suiters  0:11 

Hey, everybody. With the consumer Technology Association, I’m Tyler Suiters. We are the owner and the producer of CES, the most influential tech event on the planet. We are here to get you CES ready. The big show is on the way, January 8-11, 2019, in Las Vegas. And at CES 2019, one of the things you will see is how 5G and conductivity will transform industries. It will enable digital health; smart cities; self-driving vehicles; and today's topic, smart homes. Not only are our homes becoming more energy efficient, they are easier than ever for us to use. And we'll delve into some of those factors today, both the manufacturing and product side, and also what voice is doing for us on that front. So today we are talking to a longtime leader in home lighting. This company started originally with dimmers, and now it is very much in the space of the smart home — that is Lutron Electronics. And also how the smart home is becoming enabled through voice recognition technology. We're talking to one of the world's best-known companies, Google. That is all coming up on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

Tyler Suiters  1:33 

Joining us now from Lutron Electronics is Matt Swatsky. He is vice president of residential mid-market business. And, Matt, great to have you with us today.


Matt Swatsky  1:43 

Thanks for having us, Tyler.


Tyler Suiters  1:45 

Well, fun to talk to such a venerated, longtime consumer technology company. Lutron’s been in business for nearly 60 years now. Boy, there's been a lot of evolution over six decades. What's the transition you've seen in large scale for Lutron?


Matt Swatsky  2:03 

Well, the biggest thing is that when Lutron started, we really made the dimmer that went in your dining room or into a commercial building to dim the lights. And that was over almost 60 years ago now. I think as our business involved, we got into more commercial spaces, made  commercial lighting systems. And about 25 years ago, believe it or not, we got into the connected home. And so people are shocked by that, the connected homes. It's just a few years old, isn't it? Well, the truth is, the connected home has been talked about for a long time, starting with George Jetson in the ’60s.


Matt Swatsky  2:41 

And Lutron really got into it in the late ’80s, really focusing on more luxury homes. And we kind of took our business that we built around the luxury homes 25 years ago, and our business and make making great lighting projects. And in the last few years, we combine them together to offer this great mass consumer connected home product.


Tyler Suiters  3:04 

So I think that, to some degree, the smart home is most often, at least in Lutron’s terms, associated with lighting, right? Something that we tend to take for granted, not think twice about. What is so different, in your mind, now both from the professional side and Lutron’s point of view, but also taking into account what the consumer thinks about lighting today?


Matt Swatsky  3:26 

Yeah, so a couple things happened that are obvious when you think about it. But from the lighting standpoint, Lutron’s been in a lot of homes for a lot of years. But what has changed is that the smartphones came along and made technology accessible to people. And that was the biggest change for Lutron is people realize they could do things with their phone. They're like, “Oh, I can control my life.”

But we still had a problem because there was a huge awareness issue. Yes, you could control your life and you could set up scenes and schedule things and do all these functional feature-based things, but it wasn't engaging to homeowners. And the other thing that changes, there's a big swell of lots of the consumer electronics companies, as a whole, coming into it. Google, Apple, Amazon coming into the connected home really raised awareness. And so the smartphones and that large awareness really changed — just bringing attention to the average light switch.


Tyler Suiters  4:32 

So what are the most common applications today? For smart lighting, you talk about the control, the versatility, the connectivity that we have through our smartphones, or other hub devices. But what else are you seeing most frequently in terms of consumer demand and these applications for consumers?


Matt Swatsky  4:50 

Yeah, so lots of people use their light switches every day. And I'm sure, Tyler, when you woke up this morning, one of the first things you did was actually touch a light switch. Correct?


Tyler Suiters  5:01 

You know the first thing I touched was my smartphone.


Matt Swatsky  5:03 

Yeah, good point. Good point. So you check your feeds and then check your email and then, you know, you go the bathroom wash your face. You turn the lights on, right?


Tyler Suiters  5:15 

Yeah, you’re absolutely right, yeah.


Matt Swatsky  5:17 

You don’t think about it. Think about smartphone, maybe you think about your family or kids or your significant other. But in all those instances you're touching lights. You use the restroom, you turn the lights on. You get dressed, you turn the lights on. You go down to make coffee and have a bagel, you turn the lights on. And then you turn all those lights off before you leave the house. So before you even have left the house, you've touched your light switch, you know, a couple dozen times.


Tyler Suiters  5:40 

Yeah, you've got my morning routine. You got it down already mapped. But you're right, I don't stop to think about how many times I'm turning on and then having to go back and turn off lights.


Matt Swatsky  5:51 

Right. So I use this example, that lighting is around you every day. And if you could make it a little more convenient, to do it could really improve your life. So I'll give you an example. So because Lutron’s been in the connected home business for 25 years, we I have a lot of these products in my house, and I get to beta test them, which is great. And so because I had these before, kind of, the connected home wave came into being — you know, you have family over your friends over and they come in, they're there in your house. I get a lot of questions. They’re like, “How did you do that? How did you make that happen?” And most of the things that happen have to do with lights and shades.

Matt Swatsky  6:36 

So I'll give you an example. We had a party for our kids this summer, and it was a birthday party. It was in the middle of the afternoon. And my wife wanted to do the cake, which is what you do at a birthday party. You have cake, and the kids wanted to light the candles and so it's two o'clock in the afternoon. It's bright out. So we got everybody into the kitchen, family room area. They come in, I said, “Alexa, set the mood to nightlight.” And guess what happened? The shades start closing, the drapes close, the lights dim down. Mom walks in with the cake. The kids sing “Happy Birthday.” The whole family's like, “How did that even happen?” Right? “I didn't know that was possible.”

So again, even though people know you can do things with the smartphone, and you can set things up with voice control, the lighting is something that is a real wow factor for people that makes the voice assistants and other things that are in the market really come to life in a real-life situation.


Tyler Suiters  7:41 

So today, we're also talking to Google Home and the explosion of voice recognition voice control across the tech suite. But it's so key to integrating lights, right, and some of the smart home elements. It's just only one short step beyond everything you were just describing that, which is instead of having to touch your phone, which as I said is the first thing I do in the morning, you're not touching anything, right? It's part of your natural routine, your natural conversation, if you will, with your house and your technology.


Matt Swatsky   8:15 

Yeah, it's actually pretty simple. I can be down in my rec room and I can say, “OK, Google, set the lights for movie scene.” And the lights will dim down, and we all know that in the movie theater, the movie begins when the light start to dim.


Tyler Suiters  8:30 

Oh, yeah, that's a great point about the almost Pavlovian response about the lights going down. I get that. What about voice recognition more broadly in the smart home? When we talk about the nearly 60 years of Lutron’s existence and evolution, voice is probably the very latest element of that evolution, right. So where are we now, and where do you see it progressing for you at Lutron?


Matt Swatsky   8:55 

Yeah, so a lot of the key use cases for Lutron, for Lutron’s customers are centered around peace of mind. And what that means is that people worry about their homes. It's your largest single investment that most people make. And so they want to take care of it, they want to know their family is safe. You want to know that when your kids come home, that the lights are going to be on for them when they get home from school. You want to know when you leave the house, maybe you can make the house look like it's lived in. So you know, we can imagine a world where you're walking out of the house, you say, “OK, Google, I’m leaving,” and you leave, and everything just happens. The mood of the music turns off, the lights turn down, maybe a couple of lamps in front of the front windows turn on randomly while you're away. One simple phrase can make all of these things happen. And so we see that progression from very, “if we do this then do that” to turn into a fully automation, to where it actually is aware of what you're doing and what's going on and can make things happen more autonomously.


Tyler Suiters  10:12 

So, Matt, I don't want to leave out a key step in this, because we're getting way into the possibilities and the realities as well as smart home. But step one for so many consumers is — look there's a bit of a challenge just to get this smart home technology, the products, in the home, right?

From what I gather, more and more people are doing it themselves. But are homeowners, in your view, installing your products themselves, or are they also funding the professionals to help them do it? What's the current balance right now.


Matt Swatsky    10:42 

So for example, our Caseta by Lutron product is a mix, right? It's actually about half and half. Not everybody wants to go change their own light switch. A lot of people can, but a lot of people can't. And a lot of people just would rather have someone do it. So you know, Lutron is a very strong, well-recognized name with the electrical contractor community. And so they have access to our products. Not only are our products available at retail outlets, but they're in all the electrical distributors around the world.


Matt Swatsky    11:17 

And so what that means is that if you call your electrician and say, “I'd like to get a smart home,” they can then provide it through the training that Lutron provides to them. And we think that's a very important way because we've looked at other parts of the connected home and so far, even though a lot of the press and the news is about the do-it-yourself, most of the business is still professional today. The security systems are installed by professionals. The connected home that Lutron provided through custom AV installers is a professional install, and half of our new math business is through professional installs.


Tyler Suiters  12:00 

So on that note about professionals, CES 2019 is on the way. The world's technology professionals will be there at the largest tech event on the planet. Where is Lutron Electronics placed? What is your strategy? What are you looking for, and planning for going in, Matt, to CES 2019?


Matt Swatsky    12:22 

So a couple different things that Lutron does. We want to showcase our breadth of line. We can do a simple dimmer for, starting at $15, all the way up to a fully automated custom luxury home. And so we try to generate some news about what we can do. A lot of our products are out there available today. We have some new things that we’ll be sharing. And so that's one aspect is looking at the news. The other part is our relationships with our alliances out there who we work with to help create. We don't do everything; we focused on lights and shading control.


Matt Swatsky    13:07 

And we're really excited that the growth and expansion of the smart home in general is helping us form new alliances with new companies. And then the third part is our people, our professional community who help us distribute and install it. So that's anything from electrical distributors, AV distributors, the production home builders, the custom home builders. We set up time, it's a great gathering place to get all these people together in a short amount of time.


Tyler Suiters  13:38 

Matt Swatsky is vice president residential mid-market business with Lutron Electronics. Lots of proof points as to why the smart home business is booming right now. Matt, great to have you with us. And we'll see you soon at CES.


Matt Swatsky    13:53 

Yeah. Thanks, Tyler.


Tyler Suiters  13:57 

So joining us right now is the director of product management for Google Assistant, Chris Turkstra. Chris, that's a longer title. I really just want to say you're almost all things voice assistant there at Google.


Chris Turkstra  14:10 

Yes, it’s a lot of fun. I lead up the device ecosystem for Google Assistant. And I'm really working on trying to make sure that we've got a great ecosystem of devices that really helped you in the home, in the car, on the go. And really want to make sure that assisted experiences have really high-quality and consistent across all these devices. And we rely heavily on our ecosystem partners to deliver that result.


Tyler Suiters    14:33

So to say your scope is expanding rapidly is probably an understatement. How would you phrase it? I know you're not everywhere just yet. But it sure seems like you're on your way, as more and more consumers are adopting voice as an interactive approach. And also, more and more devices seemingly exponentially are incorporating voice.

Chris Turkstra  14:54

Yeah, we're seeing terrific results in the market and great growth and success. A lot of that is just due to the Google Assistant itself and what it does for you. You know, we really designed the product to be super useful, and not just a toy or something that just plays music, but to also make sure that it's helping you across your day to get things done. That it's connecting with devices, is available on different surfaces. It’s now available on over 500 million devices worldwide. And that includes speakers, Google Home, cars, televisions, phones, tablets, watches, etc. So we've seen a lot of really great growth on places that you talk to the Google assistant, and then also things that you can control with the assistant. So we just, in this last year, have seen tremendous growth in this area. It's now available to control over 1,000 different brands and over 10,000 different devices that you can control just using your voice in a very, very simple integration.


Chris Turkstra  15:50 

As part of devices where you can actually interface with the Google assistant, tremendous growth but really explosive growth also in the devices that we call “works with,” where you can control the device from any assistance surface, including your phone from anywhere you are. So seeing just a lot of growth in those areas and are continuing to do so and have a lot more to talk about it at CES 2019.


Tyler Suiters  16:16 

Well, we'll get to CES in just a sec, Chris. Very much want to hear your plans and your approach for the show. But to dive into what you were just saying a moment ago, with “works with,” what has you excited right now? I made a casual reference to how quickly Google Assistant is growing, and its preponderance around devices and even verticals. What has you excited right now just in terms of where you are that's fresh, or what's coming down the road?


Chris Turkstra  16:47 

One of the things that we announced this year at CES 2018 was Smart Display. And you know, we released that product with Lenovo and JBL and with LG. And we're just seeing tremendous usage, an uptick of those device categories. So we think bringing a screen to an AI, to an assistant in a way that is really has the user getting the simplicity that they expect out of an assistant but with the screen-full surface has tremendous headroom and value and a lot of excitement for us.

For example, we talked about the “works with” devices before. We can control your lights, your thermostat, even see your Nest cameras on the device. And the screen makes this so much more, you know, easier to do. As a matter of fact, we just released a new feature on the smart displays where, if you pull down from the top, you get a list of all the devices. It's organized by rooms in your home. And of course, you can use your voice to control them. But you can also touch if you want to set a temperature or a specific color for a room or light bulb.

Chris Turkstra  17:55 

And it's really making it so that the smart home is now finally possible and actually feasible, , which is something that we love to do is bringing this technology that's traditionally been pretty hard, and making it so it's really much more accessible to a broad audience in a mass market. Especially in the realm of folks who had to pay a lot of money or deal with really complex home automation systems or many, many different apps and trying to get things to work together.

The assistance is a platform that once we've done these integrations, and again there's a lot of them, you have a really nice, consistent interface that allows you to control them and manage them and feel safe and comfortable in your own home. It's really exciting. And the display brings a lot to that, in terms of being able to see status, make changes without using your voice, and getting really even fine-grained control of some of the systems in your home. So that's some of the stuff we're really excited about continuing in 2019.


Tyler Suiters  18:56 

So you mentioned the product launch earlier this year, Chris. I think that CES 2018, in many ways, was the arrival of voice around the consumer technology ecosystem. At least, you know, in a horizontal sense it was recognized by industry broadly. From many other CES attendees, it was the year of Google's gumball machine. So you're taking on a much more visible presence at CES. So let's talk about the decision that went into that and what that looked like for you in 2018 and then where you're heading in 2019 in view of CES as a showcase for voice.


Chris Turkstra 19:33 

Sounds good. 2018 was clearly a huge year for us at CES. And, you know, we decided that it was really a good opportunity to do two things. One is to be able to, from a PR perspective and from a just letting the world know that we're really serious about this space, we're very serious about this ecosystem of devices. And certainly the number of impressions we drove out of this year’s CES deployment were terrific.


Chris Turkstra  20:09

The other part of it, I think, was really to explain to this consumer electronics ecosystem, we think as computing becomes more and more ambient, more available everywhere that really it's not just going to be Android phones, or even iPhones that people interact with this technology through. Rather, it'll be through everyday ordinary objects in your home. And so, this is how we view this ecosystem being critically important to us, and we wanted to make sure that the industry really understood that we're serious about it. And I think we accomplished both goals.

From our perspective, last year, along with some new product announcements, like I talked about, with the smart display, we introduced a bunch of new televisions, many other devices that have assistant built in and, of course, can be controlled by the assistant as well. And in 2019, without getting into too much detail, we're really excited about where we're headed in January this year. Our presence on the ground is actually three times the size of what it was in 2018. And the plans are coming together, and they look quite amazing.

We talked a lot about the ubiquity of the assistant, the available where its availability, so you can interact with it in the different parts of your day. And I think without getting into too much detail, what you're going to see us get into more this year, is around how the system can be super helpful in those contexts. So in your home, in the car, on the go, what are the things that you can do with the assistant that really light up value for the product. And of course, they'll be some new product announcements that we're looking forward to finally being able to show off. And the booth itself is going to be quite a fun event. Without disclosing anything. We're really looking forward to taking a lot of people for a fantastic ride.


Tyler Suiters  22:11 

Well, hearing from a person who put in 20-hour days, undoubtedly, during CES 2018, it's nice to hear you still enthusiastic about what's coming up. When you look to the smart home, Chris, and not just Google Assistant but voice interactivity and recognition in general. Is it something of a chicken and egg? Is voice driving greater consumer adoption of smart home technologies? Or is that adoption taking place and then consumers are finding more and more uses and practicalities of voice as an interactive mode?


Chris Turkstra  22:45 

Yes, I mean, smart home I think it's an enabling and a unifying technology, is the way that I would look at it. I don't know if it, who's the chicken or who's the egg. But I think if you put together the three things, one is the consumer need and value you get out of actually having devices that make your life easier, simpler and safer. So if you put together the user needs with the ecosystem of devices, that all of our friends in the ecosystem create to solve those needs, and you put those two things together with an interface and an intelligence that actually creates an orchestration and a unification of these things, that's where you really see magic happen.

I don’t think it's a chicken or an egg thing. It's sort of a combination of a certain number of elements around consumer needs, around the ecosystem of devices, and around a unifying and orchestrated interface that really is going to do some amazing things in the next few years. I spoke at the 2018 panel on home automation at CES. A lot about how interesting and exciting it is to think about applying artificial intelligence and the Google Assistant technology to the things we do every day.

So as an example, if you — it's one thing to turn on the lights and be able to use your voice to do that, or get fine-grained control. But beyond that, users really today who want to do more advanced stuff, they have to get into programming. You know, sort of “if this happens, then do this other thing, but only if it's not raining” type stuff. And that's really hard and is sort of, to me, as a barrier for mass market adoption.


Chris Turkstra  24:31

And so the stuff that I'm really excited about in our future is actually having the assistant figure out our patterns and understand, and predict what it is we might want to do with these lights, or that heat or the entry systems, or how to respond to a particular emerging situation. And so I think that's a place that we’ll end up really going is where you don't have to use your voice or touch your wall, but rather, the assistant in the technology behind it is making intelligent decisions that makes your life even more simple and automatic, frankly. So really looking forward to getting to that point where the assistant is doing the programming for me.


Tyler Suiters  25:15 

Chris, just quickly, a quick update from your perspective on the baseline technology we're talking about. Rhat is voice recognition, and it has come so far in just the last few years versus the prior few decades when it was around. Where are we now and how quickly is it improving, from your point of view?


Chris Turkstra 25:35 

You're right, it's just been amazing to see this convergence. And you're also right, it's been decades, literally decades of technology that sort of all come together. And once we started to mix it together with machine learning and artificial intelligence, it's gotten to be even more incredible. So we're at the point today where, in a noisy room, the Google Assistant can actually understand what you're saying better than another human. So we've kind of, not in every scenario but in some cases, we've gone past human capability with regards to doing what we call automatic speech recognition, which is just phenomenal and enables the technology to just work seamlessly and much better.


Chris Turkstra 26:21

People often say they're surprised that it worked, and it's because it is surprising. It seems superhuman, and in some measures it is. It also does a few things for us. As we've gotten better and better at this, we've actually gotten better at speech synthesis and output, which of course is the interface, that you hear back, in many cases, from the Google Assistant. In a way of actually making that sound more natural, making it have intonations and inflections some of the things that you've heard that we announced at Google IO was that soon John Legend will be available as a voice you can have the assistant talk to you in. And it's not like we record in snippets of John saying every word and put them together. We actually use John's input to create a neural network that allows us to create anything that, of course, John contractually would let us have him say.

But it allows us to create an output that that is really incredible and quite useful. So both on the on the speech input side and speech output side, tremendous advances. And that's only getting better. The models, the tuning we do for how it works well in a car or noisy environments. You know, or even with loud music is playing. We're applying more and more technology to that to make it even better. But it is, you're right, it's a baseline that we got to that sort of enabled this whole ecosystem to start working together quite well.


Tyler Suiters  28:04 

Yeah, that's why I go with the English butler, Chris, for all my voice assistants. There fewer restrictions than an actual performer. Chris Turkstra with Google, fascinating conversation. I know we could go for another few hours. But let's pause right there and we’ll resume when we get to Las Vegas sometime soon.


Chris Turkstra  28:21 

Sounds good. Look forward to it. It'll be about my, I think, 15th or 17th CES. So always a good time to be there. And we're really looking forward to 2019.


Tyler Suiters  28:32 

All right, and next time on CES Tech Talk, you hear us say this a lot and you very much see this in effect at CES: every company is a tech company. So on our next podcast, we are talking to a few globally known brands — you'll know who they are — who see technology as critical to their success moving forward.


John Teeple, Director of Advanced Technology, John Deere  28:54 

John Deere has been in the self-driving business for over 15 years.


Tyler Suiters  29:00 

All right, we want you to be CES ready. So step one, subscribe to this podcast. That way you won't miss any of our episodes as we're getting geared up for CES 2019. The show itself is January 8-11 in Las Vegas. The information you need is at CES.tech

As always, none of this is possible without our stars: our engineer, John Lindsey, and our producer, Tina Anthony. You all the best in the business. Thank you again for joining us. I’m Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon.