January '21

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40 • RV PRO • January 2021 rv-pro.com display is the center's north wall, where dozens of the company's patents are framed and exhibited. It may be on the receiving end of an addition or two as Winegard approaches final development of RV Halo Voice, a new virtual assistant. With more homes being equipped with 'smart' appliances capable of being operated by Amazon's Alexa, a cloud-based ser- vice, virtual assistants are becoming familiar. The difference is that RV Halo Voice has been designed and engineered specifically for RV use. "Winegard is moving from like an antenna satellite company to an 'Internet of Things' (IoT) company," says Witty. "One product under that umbrella is a voice-activated smart hub control module called the RV Halo Voice. It will operate anything that's in the control panel or the multiplex system – and it can combine com- mands, as well. You can say, 'Halo, set up camp' and it will extend the awnings, operate the slide-outs, turn on the lights – anything Jason Johannsen secures screws into the cover of a Winegard satellite antenna, one of the final steps in prepping a unit, in this 2018 file photo. Jessica Lohmeyer places a printed circuit board into an automated tester in this 2018 file photo. This is an initial step of testing after electronic parts are soldered onto the board by going through a wave solder machine. that you have programmed into it, it can do, either together or individually." As Witty explains, a big difference between RV Halo Voice and home-based virtual assistants is that Winegard's product can be operated both online and offline. "That's important for the RV industry, because when a coach is sitting on a deal- ership lot it's probably not connected to Wi-Fi or 4G – but dealers still want to show prospective customers that the coach is actually operational via voice. And when it's online, it actually has Alexa software in it, so whatever you can do with Alexa, you can do with that online solution, too. It's a really great product." That excitement, Witty adds, is apparently shared by manufacturers, with some company reps telling him they had been considering equipping units with Alexa before Winegard's team met with them. "We've already met with about 30 different OEMs – and pretty much all of them want to prototype the product," he says. "I've been involved with about 20 different product launches in my career, including five here at Winegard, and of them all, this has been the most successful, initially." Currently, RV Halo Voice is slated to be prototyped in the first quarter of 2021, with a target date for full produc- tion starting in the second quarter. It is designed to connect and communicate with onboard control panels using RVC "as well as having other options," Witty says, adding that it's easy to install. It's intended to be a factory installation, although he says Winegard also is considering a pos- sible prep option for the aftermarket. "We should be able to match up with OEM model changes for the 2022 model year, which usually are introduced between June and August," Witty says. "I think it will be a huge hit at September's RV Open House Week." For Winegard, RV Halo Voice is a natural extension of its decades- long focus on telecommunications, as well as the RV industry's push to create more home-like environments. "I used to sell coaches factory-direct, and remember a person once asked me, 'How do I connect with Wi-Fi?' It was an awkward moment, because there was no Wi-Fi installation at the time for that particular coach," he says. "People expect it. They want to have the comforts they have at home and increasingly they have smart homes. No one is delivering on that more than Winegard."

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