This week’s spot light is on iC2’s Ultamation, who are world-leaders in the field of smart building design, having secured the prestigious CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association) 2018 award for the ‘best integrated home’ in the world. That’s right, from their base at Liverpool Science Park, husband and wife team Oliver and Emma Hall have become front-runners in the world of automated technologies. Their latest award reflected the incredible innovations integrated seamlessly into a Cheshire home that adapt and respond to the owner-occupier preferences without even the flip of a switch. The discreet sensors throughout the home mean that ultimate user comfort and convenience is ensured, but also that security is maintained, with settings mimicking normal activity even when the owners are away. Whilst we can dream of a day when all our homes are intuitive to our exact requirements, we sat down with Emma and Oliver to find out how this future is in fact much closer than we realise…
Hi Emma and Oliver, How are you both getting on? Firstly, thanks for taking the time to speak with us and congratulations on the incredible award – how does it feel to be world-leaders in this field and how do you think you got ahead of the competition?
Oliver : Thank you! We were thrilled to win the Best Integrated Home EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region award, so going on to win the Global award is more than we could have dreamt of. We are constantly pushing the products we work with to be at the forefront of our industry and it’s great for that to be recognised.
It’s absolutely incredible that a local company has contributed so greatly in the field of automated technologies. Oliver, we had the pleasure of interviewing you in 2016 and know from your last interview that you started out at Sony Computer Entertainment (PlayStation) having graduated from Exeter University with a degree in Computer Science but made the decision to return to the Wirral, where you attended the Wirralbiz enterprise scheme and started Ultamation with the £500 that was awarded on completion of the course. Other than that, you said that Ultamation was entirely self-funded and had gone from strength to strength. What do you think it is that has made you so successful and have you had to adapt the model at all since we last spoke to stay ahead of the game?
Emma : At the end of the day it boils down to hard work. As a company we aren’t satisfied simply being one of many, we want to be the best in our field, so we have chosen specific areas to focus on where we know we excel. We have been lucky enough to work on some phenomenal projects which have allowed us to show off what we do … but then, they say you make your own luck!
Emma, you have such a strong background in project management. When you’re approached by a client with a grand vision, how do you know the art of the possible?
Emma: As my background is in hospitality rather than technology, I feel I can add a different perspective to how systems might work. It is easy to get sucked into the high-tech trap and sometimes a client doesn’t necessarily want the latest and greatest technology, more things that just make their lives easier and work intuitively.
The images and case studies from some of your projects are evocative of scenes from a certain Tony Stark’s man cave, but how realistic is it that the average home will scale up from having a Google Assistant/Amazon Alexa to benefitting more from automated technologies. Are we still a long way off or is this the way of the future?
Oliver : The likes of Amazon Alexa have had a huge benefit to our industry as it means that people have a much better understanding of what we do. However, these devices tend to work somewhat in isolation so, for example, they can stream your favourite music or turn the lights on, but they tend to only respond to your specific instructions. The systems we build integrate whole homes i.e. audio video, security, lighting, heating, blinds, and these systems can all influence each other. As a basic example, when you set your house alarm as you leave your house, any lights or AV equipment that you have left on will automatically turn off as the house will identify that you are no longer present. We do integrate Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa into systems, if requested, but they tend to be another tool in our kit, rather than the brains driving it.
Since we last spoke, a lot of development has taken place in Liverpool and we’re just a stone throw away from the new Sensor City, a BREEAM excellent rated global hub for sensor technology, but also what will be the new Spine building on Paddington Place, which has attracted a lot of attention for its incredible Well Standard certification largely achieved through the use of responsive automated technologies. LSP’s own buildings have Excellent and Very Good BREEAM accreditations but we’re constantly striving to improve our sustainability credentials (even though are buildings are still relatively new). Do you see the future as being bright for the integration of automated technologies in existing non-domestic buildings, or does something radical need to be done to achieve this?
Oliver : Nothing radical needs to be done, but there needs to be an appetite for commercial properties to practice what they preach. There are already great opportunities for energy efficient management from automated shading to reduce the load on AC in warm weather to controlled lighting with daylight harvesting to reduce energy consumption as the ambient lighting changes throughout the day.
Ultamation is based right next to LJMU’s Astrophysics Research Institute at LSP, who are also world leaders but in the field of astronomy. That must make for interesting conversations in the kitchen – do you find interesting synergies emerge?
Oliver : Not commercially but on a personal level it’s a great environment in be a part of. To be honest the Astrophysics guys are probably bored of me asking when they think a meteorite is going to wipe out life on earth!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Emma: We live over the water in West Kirby and two years ago decided to learn how to sail … mainly because we wanted understand ‘the ropes’ before our boys (age 6 and 8) did. We are lucky enough to sail every week from May to October, the weather this year was amazing and it’s great to escape onto the water with the stunning scenery and have fun racing for a couple of hours. This year we also both qualified as Assistance Instructors.
Finally, what is the best hidden gem on Merseyside?
Emma: It’s got to be Jenny’s bar for a cheeky cocktail… but don’t tell too many people it’s hard enough to get a table in there as it is!
We promise we won’t!
Thank you again to Oliver and Emma for both of their time. You can read more about their incredible accolade as the creators of the world’s Best Integrated Home here and get to know Oliver, Emma and the Ultamation team on their website.