I was most impressed with the quick and easy setup and the fact that I didn't need to train the voice recognition system at all. This is a fun ... fun ... fun product that can pretty much become your sidekick in operating your home automation system, answering, dialing and taking messages as well as getting your favorite sports scores, stock prices and weather reports from the internet. What else do you need? And the very best part ... just say "Goodbye" or "Thank-you" and HAL goes to sleep until you awaken it with your next desire.

HAL Deluxe

Bob Hetherington

HAL Deluxe
by Home Automated Living
Voice Control of Your Home

I was most impressed with the quick and easy setup and the fact that I didn't need to train the voice recognition system at all. This is a fun ... fun ... fun product that can pretty much become your sidekick in operating your home automation system, answering, dialing and taking messages as well as getting your favorite sports scores, stock prices and weather reports from the internet. What else do you need? And the very best part ... just say "Goodbye" or "Thank-you" and HAL goes to sleep until you awaken it with your next desire.


HAL2000 by Home Automated Living has been around for several years and my experiences with the company have always been positive. HAL supports this software and is continuously updating and improving it. My HAL Deluxe Introduction Kit came with a HALdeluxe Program CD, HAL Internal PCI Voice Portal (modem), (1) HAL Power Line Adapter (Uses X10 Protocol) and (1) Smart Lamp Module. Retail price for this setup is $239 and with it you can begin to control your home with your voice. There are many configurations to choose from ... all available at the HAL Online Store as well as many catalog companies and retailers such as Lowe's.

If you're unfamiliar with HAL and what it can do ... here is a quick overview:

HAL software taps the power of your existing PC or PC device to control your home. Once HAL is installed on your PC, it can send commands all over your house using the existing highway of electrical wires inside your home's walls. No new wires means HAL is easy and inexpensive to install.

HAL's Voice interface makes HAL easy to use. The user may pick up any phone in the home, press the # key, and then tell HAL to dim the dining room lights or close the garage door. It's a two-way conversation, with HAL confirming that it has, indeed, performed the requested action. With HAL, any phone -- anywhere in the world -- enables you to step inside your home and control it as if you were there. And you can ask HAL to read you your E-mail, give you a stock quote or a sports score or a TV listing -- because HAL automatically harvests Internet information for use when you want it.

I'll limit this preview to the HAL software. Installation is a no-brainer. Just insert the cd and follow the instructions. If you have a problem, a quick call to HAL Support will connect you with a knowledgeable representative to get you going. As you run through the setup wizard you are asked several questions about your location, installed automation equipment, preferences etc. HAL will be using this information to not only control your home systems but also to access information from the internet (weather forecasts etc.) for you to recall at will. You don't need to know everything at once however ... you can go back and fill in the details later if you need to.

There is no speech training necessary with HAL. As soon as you load the program you can ask HAL for the time, date etc. and it will recognize what you said and give the answer. If you configured your automation system during installation ... just say "Turn on the living room lights" ... and HAL does so ... and replies "I have turned on the living room lights". Amazing stuff. All you really need to learn is the correct sentences to use to address HAL. For example ... to turn on a device:

"Turn on (the) [device name]." or "Turn (the) [device name] on."
… "Turn on the living room light."
… "Turn dining room light on."
… "Turn on family room fan."

"Switch on (the) [device name]." or "Switch (the) [device name] on."
… "Switch on the living room light."
… "Switch dining room light on."
… "Switch on family room fan."

To have a device turn on for a specified length of time, add a duration phrase to the end of the above commands:

"Turn on (the) [device name] (duration)." or "Turn (the) [device name] on (duration)."
… "Turn on the living room fan for 30 minutes."
… "Turn dining room light on for one hour."
… "Turn on the front porch lights for 15 seconds."

There are several help files readily available when HAL is running to prompt you on the correct context to use for commands. The command sentences are very intuitive and once you've said them a few times they are easy to remember. 

What Can HAL Do?

HAL is an awesome tool that can not only control your home systems but it can also become your home communications controller as well as a voice interface to a wide array of information downloaded from the internet. If you have a broadband connection to the net ... so much the better ... but it is not mandatory by any means. HAL can be setup to dial up automatically for information updates. Here's a quick list of some of the things HAL can do for you:

Control Lights, Devices, and Appliances
HALdeluxe delivers complete power line control using the X-10 protocol. There's no need to tear your house apart to rewire your home -- simply use the home's existing wiring. Using economically priced X-10 wall switches, lamp modules, or power outlets, you can control every light in your house with HALdeluxe. You can schedule your lights to go on and off according to your lifestyle. HAL tracks sunrise and sunset where you live by matching the latitude and longitude with the position of the sun, so you can tell HAL to turn your front porch lights on at dusk every night and then turn them off at 11:30pm. Use easy-to-set-up macros to establish lighting scenes. For instance, you can program HAL to dim the lights in the family room to 30% when it hears the phrase "It's time for a movie." 

HAL will operate appliances, too, like coffee makers and popcorn poppers, so you can tell HAL to brew the coffee every morning at 7am. Even more impressive is HAL's power to link numerous actions together. In addition to dimming the family room lights when you say, "It's time for a movie," you could also have HAL begin popping the popcorn.

HAL can be set up to use various X-10 controllers. It comes with an X-10 ActiveHome controller but will also communicate with most of the popular controllers on the market. During setup you just tell it which one you use and away you go. You will need to define all of the X-10 devices that you want to control and you can setup macros, schedules, rules etc. to fully operate your home system. HAL's X-10 control software is very easy to use. 

If you already have a controller with all of your schedules and macros on it ... no problem ... just leave it alone to operate as always. Just assign an X-10 on or off code to the macros in your controller software and then define them in HAL as well. For example you could program your controller to run an "All Outside Lights On / Off" macro set to code C4. In HAL you just define C4 as "Outside Lights". Now when you say to HAL "Turn on the Outside Lights" ... it will turn on C4 which runs the macro in your controller.

Telephone Control
HALdeluxe will make your phone smart. HAL can be your phone message center -- it will answer the phone after whatever number of rings you specify and will deliver a greeting or play one that you recorded. You may configure up to ten (10) voice mailboxes and each one can have its own greeting. You can retrieve voice mail messages by phone from anywhere -- in the home or out. HAL will announce Caller ID information so there's no need to read a small Caller ID display and you can leave custom messages for certain callers. 

Internet Information Automation
HALdeluxe makes it easy for you to get the information you want -- when you want it! No more waiting for weather reports or watching a stock ticker on the TV. HAL will go out to the Internet automatically as often as you want, and will bring back weather reports for your area, the stock quotes you ask for, and a copy of your E-mail messages. The information is stored on the PC, just waiting for you to ask HAL, "What's the weather forecast for Thursday?" or "What is Microsoft at?" or "Are there any new E-mail messages?" HAL delivers the information you want -- when you want it! In addition to E-mail, weather, and stocks, HALdeluxe retrieves sports scores, news headlines, TV listings, and traffic reports (in select areas). So if you were unable to see the game, you can call HAL and simply ask, "What was the score for the Baltimore Orioles tonight?"

How To Talk to HAL?

There are a few different ways to talk to HAL depending on your preferences.

Using Microphones
One of the ways that HAL can be controlled is to issue commands into a microphone that's connected to the computer. A series of microphones (open-air microphone network) can also be installed throughout the house to control HAL. These microphones will need to be routed to a central, automatic mixer, whose output is then connected to HAL.

Before talking to HAL by microphone, HAL must be put into listening mode. If the "Enable Attention Word" option is enabled then you can get HAL's attention by saying HAL's attention word into the microphone. Pick any word you like. For example one HAL user call his system Jeannie (yes ... the one in the bottle). You can read about his system in another article ( click here ).

Once you get HAL's attention you simply say the commands. HAL will respond with the information you requested or with confirmation that the task has been completed. You can adjust the sound of HAL's  voice to suit your ear ... female or male ... different pitches. I've got mine to sound almost exactly the same as HAL of "Space Odyssey" fame. 

When interacting with HAL via microphone, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Quality of the equipment you're using may affect the quality of the audio that HAL hears. In other words, if the microphone is damaged or if the sound card isn't properly installed or configured, then HAL may not be hearing everything that you're saying or your voice may be distorted or intermittent. Make sure that all sound-related hardware is of good quality and installed properly.
  • HAL is shipped with a default set of voice recognition parameters for the microphone and the telephones. If HAL is having trouble understanding you, or if you're having a hard time getting HAL's attention using the Attention Word, then you may need to adjust these parameters.  
  • HAL indicates when it doesn't understand something you've said by saying "Please repeat." When HAL says this, pause a second and then re-state the previous command or question. If HAL says it again, double-check that you're saying the command or asking the question in the correct manner (see Syntax). If you're issuing a command to control a device, make sure that you're referring to the device by the name assigned to it when it was created. 
  • If you get HAL's attention and then don't say anything within a certain time period, HAL will ask, "Are you still there?". If you say "No" or don't respond, HAL will say "Goodbye" and will automatically take you out of listening mode. 

Using Telephones
You can talk to HAL over any phone extension in your home if you have set it up to do so and have a HAL compatible modem. If a standard voice/fax/data modem is used, then you may still be able to interact with HAL by calling in from a remote telephone, but you will most likely not be able to use any house phone to interact with HAL.

If one or more house phones are set up for interaction, then you can talk to HAL by picking up a house phone and pressing the attention key. The default attention key is the pound (#) key.

You can also call in from a remote phone ... anywhere in the world. If you're calling in from a remote telephone, then you get HAL's attention by pressing the attention key while the main greeting is playing. After pressing the attention key, HAL will ask you for an access code.

Talking to HAL is the same over the phone as it is via microphones. Just say the command and hear the response.

Conclusion

There are too many features in HAL to describe here. Suffice to say that with this product you won't be looking for many add-ons. It does most everything you need and more. I was most impressed with the quick and easy setup and the fact that I didn't need to train the voice recognition system at all. It's not 100% perfect in recognizing voice commands ... but then again neither are my kids :-) This is a fun ... fun ... fun product that can pretty much become your sidekick in operating your home automation system, answering, dialing and taking messages as well as getting your favorite sports scores, stock prices and weather reports from the internet. What else do you need? And the very best part ... just say "Goodbye" or "Thank-you" and HAL goes to sleep until you awaken it with your next desire. I wonder what they're working on in the HAL Labs for the next version? Better not go there now!!!   


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