Amazon and Alexa Automate Your Abode
Amazon introduced the first Echo device at the end of 2014. As we come to the end of 2017, speaking to a personal assistant is common.
Writing this article has reinforced my belief in Gene Roddenberry’s genius. One of my favorite predictions of the future on Star Trek was that the characters could address the onboard computer with voice commands.
Amazon introduced the first Echo device at the end of 2014. As we come to the end of 2017, speaking to a personal assistant is common. The product line includes the Echo Show, the Echo, and the Echo Dot. You can also access Alexa through apps on devices like the Fire TV, Kindle Fire or a Fire Tablet.
You don’t have to call her Alexa
Alexa is the default name for your cloud-based AI voice-based assistant. She works on any compatible device, although some functions only work on particular devices. The Echo, Dot, and Show will respond if you say the wake word. The default wake word is, “Alexa,” but she’ll respond to Alexa, Echo, Amazon, or any custom term you choose. For those of you who enjoyed Star Trek, you can even address her as Computer.
For this article, I’m going to refer to her as Alexa rather than specify a device to limit confusion.
More useful than I knew
I’ve got a Kindle Fire, so I’ve had access to Alexa for a while. I’m a big fan of Siri on my iPhone, and I love being able to speak commands to the Xbox One, but I just couldn’t justify another device that performed the same limited functions as Siri.
My assumptions about the device were quickly overturned when we stayed with friends with an Echo Dot enabled in their home. I was surprised how useful Alexa was for everyday tasks.
- While the girls were painting their nails, “Alexa, set a timer for 3 minutes.”
- When we walked in, “Alexa, turn on the living room lights at 60%.”
- At bedtime, “Alexa, turn off all the lights.”
- While we were making dinner, “Alexa, play music from Jimmy Buffett.”
- Before leaving the house, “Alexa, what is today’s weather?”
- When using the last of the milk, “Alexa, add milk to the grocery list.”
- To solve an argument, “Alexa, who played the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast?”
Alexa does some pretty cool stuff when you first turn on the Echo Device, but more sophisticated commands will require enabling an Alexa Skill by syncing your contacts or entering account information.
One feature we didn’t try, but I can see being extremely useful, is Drop In. If two Alexa devices turn on the feature, you can instantly connect to the other party’s Alexa by saying, “Alexa, Drop In on Mom.” It can work as an intercom inside the house if you have two devices, or in another home so your kids can talk to your grandparents without your parents having to take any action. Of course, there’s a Do Not Disturb option, and you can disable the feature at any time.
Alexa, Wake Me Up
Let Alexa wake you up with your favorite song and lull you to sleep with nighttime noises. You can use music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio. Use voice commands to set daily alarms for songs, a playlist, or a radio station of your choice. On Amazon Music, users can ask Alexa to set a musical alarm with a command like, “Alexa, wake me to 80s music at 8:15 am tomorrow.”
Ask Alexa to place a free call for you to any landline or mobile number in the US, Mexico, and Canada. You can also request that she text mobile numbers or by contact name. The new Echo Show touchscreen device will even let you place video calls.
Smart Home Integration
After we returned from the trip, I started researching Alexa’s capabilities and was surprised to discover how far Smart Home integration had evolved while I wasn’t paying attention. Three years in and the home integration technology is growing by leaps and bounds.
Smart Home Skill Set: Lights, Switches, and Thermostats
Alexa enables you to automate your home with an almost endless amount of solutions. Using the app and voice controls, you’ll be able to adjust your thermostat, schedule your sprinkler system, install a smart lock with a security camera on the front door, enhance entertainment like games, music, and movies with custom lighting, and control and schedule lights, fans, and appliances. You can connect compatible smart home devices using Alexa’s smart home skills and control them with an app or voice commands.
Alexa and the coordinating fixtures can be configured and controlled in an endless amount of combinations. For example, if you want to control a light, there are at least five ways to it using Alexa.
Philips Hue line of light bulbs installs just like any ordinary light bulb in your existing light fixture. Using Alexa’s Smart Home Skill, you can set an on/off schedule and control it via your Alexa app, or use the voice control features to turn them on and off manually. If you buy the “starter kit” that includes lights bulbs and a Philips Hue Bridge, you can control up to 50 lights with app settings and voice commands.
Wemo Mini Smart Plug allows you to control the on/off settings to any device you plug into it. Plug in your lights or appliances and use Alexa voice controls. Create schedules to turn a fan, light, or coffee maker to turn on pre-set times. This little plug is small enough that you can stack two per standard outlet. No hub required and only needs access to WiFi.
Dimmer and Light Switch
Install this dimmer light switch and it allows you to control settings from the wall, like a standard switch, or with Alexa voice controls. On the app, you can easily set schedules and timers, or sync the lights to adjust with sunset and sunrise or set it on night mode for a low-light-level.
Philips Hue Go portable, rechargeable battery-powered table lamp is capable of producing millions of colors and shades of white light. The light will sync with music, movies, and games and will display according to settings to enhance your entertainment. Can be used with the Hue Bridge and is compatible with Hue Tap, Hue Motion Sensor, and the Hue Dimmer Switch. Program it with an app or use Alexa voice controls.
Philips Hue Lightstrip lets you install a flexible light strip under a bed frame, cabinet, or bar with included adhesive tape. Sync the lights with games, music, and movies for even more exciting entertainment. Control the lights on a schedule with an app or through Alexa voice controls.
Alexa’s Got Skills
Alexa has more than 25,000 voice-activated skills. Amazon and third-party developers are constantly adding new skill sets.
You can create daily routines via the app to enable multi-step actions for a single phrase. For example, “Alexa, good morning,” could turn on the lights, turn up the thermostat and state the current weather conditions.
Alexa, Turn Off
With so many skills and the ability to string them together, Alexa has an exciting future. Start getting your home on board with some new skills and enjoy the ease of voice commands to run your home. Now, where is that robot to clean my new smart house?
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