Alexa: from voice-activated speaker to “Smart Home” concept

In this article, we’ll consider what Alexa can do, and how customers can apply it in their daily lives

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Alexa: from voice-activated speaker to “Smart Home” concept. Source: shutterstock.com

PaySpace Magazine has decided to make an overview of the most popular virtual assistants, since this software solution is becoming more and more popular nowadays.

We will start with one of the most popular options – Alexa. In this article, we’ll consider what Alexa can do, and how customers can apply it in their daily lives.

What is Alexa

Since the time when Amazon first introduced its voice assistant in 2014, Amazon has confidently become the most popular search result in the “smart home” search request. Now suddenly, almost every IT company has decided to consider the possibility of integration of its own products with Amazon’s virtual voice assistant, Alexa.

This kind of integration is usually an ongoing process, and the pace is always fast. Thus, it is hard to predict (or even imagine) what kind of products will support Alexa. Amazon’s website, per se, tries to show the most popular Alexa-friendly products, but the information on all these products is insufficient and not well-structured.

In addition, for the good (not to say obvious) reasons, the fact that you don’t need to have an Amazon Echo device to interact with Alexa and use all its options to your benefit is often overlooked, even sometimes ignored.

So, Alexa is not just a virtual assistant that can be embedded into Amazon’s devices (for instance, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Fire HD 10 tablet, etc). The company also allows third-party manufacturers to embed Alexa into their products. For example, the giant of the automotive industry, Ford, began to embed a voice assistant by Amazon into its recent car models, and we’re talking about 2017-2018 now.

However, that is not our point. We’re here today to consider what Alexa is, and how it can be used by consumers.

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Alexa is not just a virtual assistant that can be embedded into Amazon’s devices. Source: shutterstock.com

Actually, a lot of consumers admit that hearing “Amazon’s Alexa” pops one thing into their minds – Amazon Echo, and basically, Alexa is a voice assistant built into this gadget. Furthermore, most users would tell you that it’s cool, and is able to answer questions and play music. But, the truth is, it can perform much more than being just a bot for answers or an MP3 player. Amazon Echo also allows you to control lighting, sockets, TV, heating, managing your accounts and even more with the help of suitable add-ons and accessories. To use these features, you just need to say a simple phrase like “Alexa, turn on the lights in the living room” or “Alexa, turn the TV volume down”.

So, let’s consider the most popular Alexa-compatible devices, and how useful they can be.

Amazon Echo and its abilities

Basically, Amazon Echo is a device that answers questions, reminds you about planned events and meetings, controls the lighting, adjusts the heating, turns on the TV, and does most of the things related to IoT concept. If you want to have voice control over your Smart Home system, you will need special compatible devices that can “communicate” with Echo devices.

Generally, the connection process is quite simple. The device can be “detected” (or it is better to say found) by Echo directly, or with the help of the specialized Alexa voice assistant software. After installation and configuration, devices can be controlled with the help of voice commands, such as “Alexa, turn on the device” or “Alexa, increase the light in the living room by 20 percent.”

Now we know that Alexa can work without additional gadgets: the device has settings for connection to Wi-Fi via a router. If there is no Wi-Fi, the screen lights up in red instead of blue, and Alexa reports a problem.

If you don’t need anything from Amazon, and just need to go to the grocery store, then you can ask Alexa to remember the shopping list you’ve created.

When you have downloaded the application, take a look at the list of categories (and particularly, it is useful to check out the “skills” list). Now you will know how to access information about the weather, exchange rates (including cryptocurrencies), a list of applications with various cooking recipes, traffic congestions, news, games and much more. Other applications on your personal account can be activated on the demand. For example, if you use the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) application, you will immediately access the data on your license plate number, the insurance cover, and other related legal info.

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Alexa became available in a new market. Source: shutterstock.com

 

If you find the app of your mobile operator, you can easily control your mobile phone bills, asking: “Alexa, what is my balance situation?” (or rephrase it the way you like).

Voice commands should be pronounced clearly since Alexa recognizes the keywords and sends them to the cloud, where it analyses the command. For example, if you say “Alexa, remind me …”, it will surely ask you what specifically you want it to remind you, and what the best time for this would be.

Cancellation of any voice command is just a phrase “Alexa, off” or any suitable phrase.

Other devices

In 2019, it is not that hard to find Alexa-compatible options. For example, the Amazon Echo Plus version of the smart speaker is equipped with a ZigBee module, which allows you to directly connect to Philips, Osram and other large manufacturers’ light bulbs, if the bulbs have the ZigBee logo.

Another device, Amazon Echo Dot, was intended for the remote use. It is the size of a puck, and serves as an additional assistant.

When you set it up, using an existing application, you’ll need to give the device a name. It can be the kitchen, bedroom, living room, children’s room, etc. This will give an opportunity to talk with your family. Moreover, if you set up an alarm clock on this device, it will only be activated it the room you’ve installed it in.

However, the use of Echo Dot already extends beyond the household.

Major automotive concerns began to implement Alexa’s technology in the latest car models, and you can even find applications for Mercedes and BMW with a list of commands, such as closing locks, turning on heated seats, and dozens of other handy options.

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Today’s market can offer different devices. Source: shutterstock.com

Smart plugs, for example, can be connected to a torch, or any other lamp/light. Now, you can turn lights on with the help of just “Alexa, light on!”

You can also connect the adapter to any electrical device through the application. At the same time, you need to reconnect it to the router by typing the password. So the speaker and adapter begin to “talk” with each other. For example, having connected a kettle through an adapter, you can wake up and say a command like “Boil the kettle”, or similar words.

Philips Hue smart LED bulbs are simply screwed in or inserted into the light socket. These bulbs respond to Alexa’s commands to turn on/off the light with Alexa. The bulbs also work independently, with the help of the remote control The Philips Hue starter kit includes colored lights with switches. You can configure them so that the bulbs can react (adjust) to music, movies, and games, creating additional illumination effects. What’s more, you can even implement something like “Alexa, turn the light blue in the living room” with Alexa and those bulbs (it depends on your sophistication and imagination).

With the help of Alexa, which interacts with hidden cameras of internal and external surveillance, fire alarms, and doorbells with integrated cameras, you can clearly see what the Smart Home concept is about. Each of the Alexa-connected devices operates autonomously and may have different manufacturers. Alexa can even cooperate with the thermostat, or the fire alarm.

Smart doorbells allow you to answer in person, even if you are away from home. For example, you can order dinner in a cafe and receive a signal on the phone (signaling that the doorbell is ringing) simultaneously. So you can chat with a visitor, record a video of the conversation, or even turn on the burglar alarm.

The Nest Protect sensor detects smoke particles and odorless and colorless gas in the air, while the heat sensor allows Nest Protect to detect sudden rises in temperature. The warning about a possible threat will be sent straight to the owner’s mobile phone.

Today’s market can offer different devices, such as a smart car mount (for example, ZeroTouch Air), which can cooperate with a vehicle’s systems, robot voice-controlled vacuum cleaners (like Neato Botvac Connected), smart thermostats (like Nest Learning Thermostat), or even a personal weatherman (Netatmo Weather Station). And this is only a partial list of Alexa-compatible things (please note they all are not Amazon-made ones).

SEE ALSO: Top 10 IoT solutions and devices

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