Natural User Interface: “Alexa, please turn on my kitchen lights.”
By far the most fun and noticeable thing I have added to my home automation has been an Amazon Echo, in fact, two Echo’s and two Dot’s. A previous post mentions how you can add the Samsung SmartThings Skill; this allows for a very simple import of all the switches and light bulbs attached to the SmartThings hub. Alexa provides a NUI, using your voice to control lighting has been a welcome addition to the smart home.
My lighting use-cases:
- Hands full – When I have a baby and groceries in hand, turning on the lights is still easy!
- “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.”
- Lazy – Sitting on the couch and realizing it got dark outside
- “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.”
- Leaving for work – This is so handy
- “Alexa, turn off all lights.”
- New Visitors – Really just a great way to demo
- “Alexa, turn on all lights.”
Where do I place my devices?
Having multiple Alexa enabled devices in the house can be challenging, especially in our house where we have wood floors and a bit of an “Echo” :), however, this seems to have gone away with a recent update! Awesome job Echo Team on the ESP feature!
While I am still playing with device placement a little bit, I’ve found that keeping them our of earshot of the other device is one key. Another key is to talk to Echo politely like you would a person who is standing in the room. I see when Alexa doesn’t understand the first time our natural human reaction is to raise our voice and speak slower.
If you place the devices far enough away, generally even if another Echo hears the keyword “Alexa” it doesn’t pick up the actual command and gives up.
What about people named Alexa?
Since I know a few people with kids named Alexa, can they not use the Echo? Amazon totally thought of this; you can change the wake word to be Alexa, Amazon, or Echo. This setting is on a device by device basis, so you want to be careful about having a whole bunch of different names. Personally, I like Alexa.
Helpful links I’ve found
- Great introduction by CNET
- Add Multiple Accounts!
- General Alexa Help
- Develop an Alexa Skill
- If this then that (IFTTT) channel
Skills I’ve used
- August Skill – At first I thought that this skill would be scary, but thankfully August Skill only lets you lock and check the status of locks.
- SmartThings – Easy to manage devices via the Skill.
- Automatic – I can check the fuel level of my car!
- More to come – I’ll keep adding more here as I use them
How have I used Alexa?
The usage of Alexa continues to grow in our house beyond just lighting controls:
- Handy for cooking – “Alexa, create a ten-minute timer.”
- “Alexa, how much time is left?” – she answers in a very natural way
- Top stories from around the world – “Alexa, what is the news flash.”
- August keeps my doors locked, and allows me to let people in without physical keys – “Alexa, ask August if my door is locked.”
- Automatic helps to get data from your car – “Alexa, ask Automatic if I need gas.”
I find that with the NUI people tend to try new things with Alexa, whereas with traditional computer screens people fear change! It is amazing to see what happens when you take away the screen.