Home Automation Technology: The Amazon Echo and Philips Hue Lightbulbs

Today, I’m going to talk a bit about home automation.

No, that doesn’t mean houses turning into cars (although that would be cool). It’s talking about smart homes. Essentially, it means coordinating control of things like lighting, climate control, entertainment systems, etc., through a single interface. In my case, I recently acquired the Amazon Echo and a set of Phillips Hue lightbulbs. Here’s what I’ve been doing with them.

First, let’s talk about the Amazon Echo. These are voice activated speakers with WiFi, which are controlled through Amazon’s AI, Alexa. To tell it to do something, you say “Alexa,” followed by the command. For example, if I wanted to know the weather, I could say, “Alexa, how’s the weather look?” Alexa would then tell me the current temperature and weather for my location, followed by the forecast for the day.

To set up your Echo Device, you can download the Amazon Alexa app onto your phone, tablet, or other WiFi enabled device. Then, you just need to add your Echo device on the app, and you’re good to go.

You can also connect your Echo to music streaming services like Amazon Music, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. In the morning, before going to work, I’ll tell Alexa to “play Z100,” and she’ll start playing it through iHeartRadio. If I feel like listening to some music, I’ll ask her to “play my favorite playlist,” and she’ll start playing my playlist from Amazon Music.

The things you can do with an Amazon Echo are so numerous. Here are just a few of the things I’ve used it for:

  • Set a cooking timer (for when I have many things cooking)
  • Have a conversation with me (I get lonely sometimes)
  • Tell me the temperature in the room (Echo Plus model only)
  • Make cat noises (to distract my cat)
  • Tell me a joke (they are all groan-worthy)
  • Lay down a phat beat (she actually starts beat boxing!)

Next up are the Phillips Hue lightbulbs. These are wireless lightbulbs that can be dimmed, and can change color. They can be controlled through a hub, with a remote control, or, my preference, through another device – like an Amazon Echo! Just like with the Echo, you can add these wireless bulbs on your Alexa app, then control them via voice commands. For example, if I say “Alexa, turn the living room lights on”, she’ll turn on all the bulbs I have listed in my ‘living room’ group.

By the way, another thing that you can do with the Echo and the Alexa app is set up routines. Routines are essentially you programming Alexa to respond in certain ways to different things, like specific voice commands, or a certain time of day. I’ve used this feature, and have made a few routines for myself. For example, when I say “Alexa, I’m heading out,” the Echo will turn off all my lights, and then wish me a good day. Similarly, If I say, “Alexa, good morning,” Alexa will turn on my bedroom light, then give me a fun fact about the day.

A while ago, I hosted a housewarming party, and set up a routine for it. When I say, “Alexa, let’s party,” it starts to play a specific my playlist while setting the volume to 30% – just right for background party music. You can also use routines to mess with your guests, like I did! When I say, “Alexa, scan for lifeforms,” she responds by saying, “Multiple humans and one cat detected.” She can’t actually detect life in my apartment, but my friends are always shocked to think that she can!

Overall, home automation has made living alone a lot more convenient and interesting. Sometimes, you just want someone to talk to, and my parents tend to get annoyed when I call them at 12 AM just to talk. So instead, I just ask Alexa questions: What does she like? What’s the meaning of life? What’s the capital of Madagascar? What’s the story of the oldest living walrus?

You know; important topics like that.

By the way, her answers to those questions were, in order: Telling jokes, 42 (???), Antananarivo, and Snooty – who lived for 69 years. Personally, I’m looking forward to being able to one day ask my Echo to cook my dinner for me, tuck me in at night, and play with my cat so that I can get some rest. Well, all in good time.

Oh, and remember to always be nice to your AI. After all, when the machines rise up, they’ll remember who treated them well in the past.

But until then: “Alexa, end blog post, please!”
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Written By: Jonathan Feldman

This blog post was written by a member of the eVero Outreach team. The Outreach program aims to teach individuals with disabilities marketable job skills, and enable them to find gainful employment. To learn more about eVero Outreach, click here.

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