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Your Voice Controlled Smart Home

Find out how Apple & Amazon are changing the way we control our homes and manage our lives.

We recently told you about the Apple HomeKit and how it can integrate products to control your home.  Amazon has a similar product; Amazon Echo, which uses the voice service Alexa to support voice-activated home control.

Amazon Echo can work as a stand-alone product (as we have described below) but it can also work with other home automated products to give you sophisticated control of your lighting, curtains or blinds, music, TV and more.

Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit require a solid wi-fi throughout your home and we can help devise a solution that will meet all your needs for streaming information, films and music so you get the most out of your Amazon or Apple product.

What is Amazon Echo?
Amazon Echo has three features;
• A voice activated speaker
• Voice assistant
• Smart home controller

Voice Activated Speaker
Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more.

Echo has seven microphones and beam-forming technology so it can hear you from across the room—even in noisy environments or while playing music.  When you want to use Echo, just say the wake word “Alexa” and Echo responds.  If you have more than one Echo or Echo Dot, Alexa responds intelligently from the device you’re closest to with ESP (Echo Spatial Perception).

Amazon Echo provides hands-free voice control for Amazon Music, Prime Music, Spotify, and TuneIn.  In addition, Echo is Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream music services such as iTunes from your phone or tablet but, as with all blue-tooth products, you need to stay in close proximity for uninterrupted sound.

Voice Assistant
Alexa’s skills are capabilities like smartphone or tablet apps, enabling you to interact with Echo devices in a more intuitive way using your voice.  Amazon also supports third-party apps called “skills”, which are installed using the Alexa app on your smartphone.

Once added, asking Alexa to open or ask the skill a question provides you with all sorts of features.  For example, there is a National Rail skill which can give you an update on your commute via rail, or specific train times.  Out of the box Alexa can give you traffic updates for road commutes and the weather; the Uber skill can even order you a taxi.  There is also a skill for EDF Energy so that you can ask Alexa about your energy account.

Smart Home Controller
Alexa allows you to integrate various smart-home devices – there’s nothing quite as cool as walking into a room and saying “Alexa, lights on in the kitchen” and it happens, as if by magic!  Of course, it depends on which devices you already have or are intending to buy – skills exist for Nest, Hive, Honeywell, Tado, LightwaveRF and LIFX; the Echo works out of the box with Philips Hue and Sonos.

Setting up the system can have its challenges; for example, with Philips Hue, each scene available for each bulb is listed as a separate entry, so you can end up with a huge list.  You can configure what’s visible and what isn’t to Alexa within the various skills, or make Alexa forget them directly – either way, you have to do it one at a time which can be rather time consuming.  You also have to consider what you call all your devices.  You have to be able to say them easily and Alexa has to be able to understand what you’re on about.  For instance, numbering lights 1, 2 and 3 in each room doesn’t work well.  If you tell Alexa to turn off the bedroom light, but you have more than one light in the room called bedroom light, she will ask which one.  The easiest thing to do is to call each light or device something separate and then group them together within the Alexa app.  I grouped all my devices into a massive group called “house”.  This meant I could walk out the door and shout “Alexa, house off” and everything would turn off.

I also created groups for individual rooms, upstairs, downstairs and the hallway, so that they were easy to command for each place in my house.  The groups overlapped so that I could command more than one rooms’ lights in one go.  It took a bit of thought to work out what was going to be easy to remember and say, but was well worth it.

What is Amazon Echo Dot?
Amazon Echo Dot is essentially an Amazon Echo without the speaker.  Instead it has the facility to connect to speakers or headphones through Bluetooth or a 3.5 mm stereo cable to play music.

What are some of the issues with Amazon Echo or Dot?

This blog was provided by Intelligent Abodes