Sunday 8 January 2017

Amazon's Alexa - smart home voice assistant

Alexa has been with us for some time now. I have been able to play around with it. I currently have 2 Amazon Echo Dots.

According to Wikipedia "Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by's Lab126, made popular by the Echo. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audio books, and providing weather, traffic and other real time information. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation hub.[2] Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word (such as Echo), other devices require you to push a button in order to activate listening-mode. Currently, interaction and communication with Alexa is only available in English and German."
I hope that statement give a quick glance at what this device is really about, and whether it might be for you.

There are other voice assistance on the market and the main competitors to Alexa are the Google Home Assistant and Apple's HomeKit.

Amazon Echo (Taller) and Echo Dot (smaller)
Gooogle Assistant

Apple Homekit
The following tables gives a summary of  current devices and systems which are compatible to each of the 3 offerings. The tables are written in the format of the "Smart Home Scoreboard for  CES2017" from which can be found at
Tables in that link are continuously updated everyday, so the information here is a snapshot of information on that link.

Compelling smart device compartibility
Amazon Alexa
Apple HomeKit
Google Assistant
Belkin WeMo Dimmer
Chamberlain Smart Garage Hub
Belkin WeMo Dimmer
Whirlpool appliances
Leviton Decora light switches
Dish Hopper DVR
Honeywell Lyric Home Security and Control System
Chrysler 300
Element 4K TV

Nvidia Shield TV
LG Smart Instaview Refrigerator

Nvidia Spot
Ford Sync3

Mattel Aristotle by Nabi child's smart speaker

Hydrao smart showerheads

Samsung SmartThings kit

LightwaveRF Dimmaers and sockers

Compatible systems which are “Not bad”
Amazon Alexa
Apple HomeKit
Google Assistant
Samsung Powerbot VR7000 robot vacuum
Sylvania Multicolor smart bulb
Belkin WeMo Mini smart plug
WeMo Mini smart plug
Kwikset Premis smart lock
Coway Airmega air purifier
Omaker Wow speaker
Lifx Plus smart bulb
Switchmate Bright smart switch
Lenovo Smart Assistant speaker
ConnectSense Sensors
Switchmate Power smart plug smart switch
C by GE Lamp
Fibaro sensors
Sensory Voice Genie
Coway Airmega air purifier
First Alera Onelink Environment Monitor

First Alera Onelink environment monitor
Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm

Somfy One security camera
Withings Home Plus WiFi cam

C-Way Memoo child's smart speaker
Carrier Cor smart thermostats

Switchmate Bright smart switch
D-Link Omna 180 Cam HD

Switchmate Power smart plug smart switch
Sensory Voice Genie

Hubble Hugo camera
Yale Real Living Assure Locks

Carrier Cor smart thermostats
Yale NexTouch Wireless Locks

Huawei Mate 9 phone
Incipio CommandKit WiFi Smart Wall Switch

Incipio CommandKit WiFi Light Switch

Incipio Command Kit Smart PowerStrip

Cambridge Nightengale

ADT Pulse

Sensory Voice Genie

Onkyo VC-FLX1

Mayfield Robotics Kuri

Amazon Alexa
Apple HomeKit
Google Assistant
iDevices Instant Switch
iDevices Instant Switch

LG Hub Robot

Ubtech Robots Lynx


What you can do with Alexa?
The following is an example list of things that you can say or ask Alexa.
"Alexa, whats my day like tomorrow?"
"Alexa, tell Lizzy a bedtime story"
"Alexa, tell me a joke"
"Alexa, play Christmas music"
"Alexa, who is Michael Jackson?"
"Alexa, wake me up at 7 in the morning"
"Alexa, ask Skyscanner for a flight to New York"
"Alexa, ask The Telegraph for the top stories"
"Alexa, how's my commute?"
"Alexa, shuffle my Favourites playlist"
"Alexa, turn it up"
"Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?"
"Alexa, read my audiobook"
"Alexa, what's on my calendar today?"
"Alexa, what's the weather in London?"
"Alexa, play Taylor Swift from Amazon Music"
"Alexa, turn on the coffee machine"
"Alexa, turn on all the lights"
"Alexa, switch on main bedroom lights"
"Alexa, set the master bedroom to 20 degrees"
"Alexa, what's in the news?"
"Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride"
"Alexa, open Just Eat and ask for my last order"
"Alexa, ask Jamie Oliver for a recipe"

My setup
I have 2 Echo dots, One in the living room and the other one in my bedroom. I can use the one in the living room if I am in the Kitchen, provided there is not too much noise (like loud music playing), but it works all the time.

To be able to ask Alexa the above question and get expected answers, one need to activate the relevant "skills". Skills are software intelligence that recognises the context and subject of the questions, and know how and where to fetch the data to be able to respond to the pondered question. Say if you have your own product that you want to be compatible with Alexa, you can program a little piece of  software specifying the questions that people should ask, and then code the necessary response of your device, in form of actions (e.g. movements if its a mechatronic device, or database fetches, is its data requests)

I use most of the default skills that come enabled with Alexa, and I have activated a few more. I have the SmartThings and LightwaveRF smarthome kits (see previous posts). I connected and activated these skills in my Alexa, so I am able to do the following;
 - Switch on/off or dim lights (e.g. "Alexa set living room lights to 20 percent")
 - Switch on/off electrical sockets (thus controlling devices connected to those sockets)
 - Switch on/off heating

LightwaverRF and SmartThings Skills

The above systems are the key to the success of Alexa in my house. My visitors are always in awe of how I control devices and lights in my house by just using my voice.
At the moment no other home assistant is compatible with LightwaveRF system, so Alexa is ahead of the game at the moment.

If you have any interesting tricks, skills and features that you want to share or discuss, please leave a comment.

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