Being a child in 1980’s and 1990’s, I was mesmerized by shows such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Matrix and have whiled away hours writing and dreaming about a future that includes, as my child’s mind then put it, talking machines and automatons. With the advancement of technology over time, we have currently arrived at a point where the old impossibles have now become possible.
As voice chatbots and smart devices have become affordable, I have excitedly dabbled with Alexa and some sensors and have had a lot of fun doing it. To say the least, these devices and the comforts they offer can be quite addictive and difficult to do without once you get used to it.
A regular day at our home starts with Alexa waking us up since it is so much more easier to manage alarms using voice commands than accessing it over phone. As we stride into the bathroom, the motion sensors turn lights on. This is followed by Alexa playing a tune or two while we rush to get ready often accompanying us through the process by turning on pressure pump, motor, geyser, turning off AC as we leave the house, etc.
With my limited set of skills in the kitchen, Alexa has become almost irreplaceable reading out my recipes to me while I cook, pausing when I ask it to and continuing to read without dropping a word at exactly the same spot. I am pretty sure that without it my cooking would have become bearable at best.
I could go on for ages and ages on the usefulness of this device. However, the focus of this article is to focus on some easy usage of alexa and IoT to meet our home needs.
Alexa and smart plugs:
With the high electricity cost in India combined with the heat that plagues us half the year, one of the things that everyone needs to regulate at their homes is temperature. The same is the case with the water geysers, pressure pumps and a multitude of other high energy consuming devices at home. In order to connect a voice chatbot to the devices at home, you could buy any of the compatible smart plugs that are available in the market. For e.g., many smart plugs are available in the market which are echo compatible.
A step by step instruction on how to set up a smart plug and connect it to Alexa is given below. This process will vary slightly depending on the smart plug used:
- Connect the plug and then download the related device. In my case, I used D Link’s smart plug.
- Your device would ask you to scan the QR code to register the device. Once done, you will need to identify the type of device and model.
- Connect the device to your home network and provide it a nickname. We set up our devices individually based on the room and device such as bedroom ac, pressure pump, etc.
- Once you set the device up, you will be able to see some vital stats on the device.
- The smart plug will check and then, if any firmware updates are available, will download the relevant update as well.
- If you have multiple devices, you will need to follow the above steps to connect all your devices to your wifi.
- Once the devices have been connected to your wifi, enable the skill set in Alexa.
- Once this is done, you can control the plug using the application on your phone. However, in order to control the device through Echo, you will need to setup the device through Alexa. Click on Add device to do so.
- Alexa will discover any new device over wifi and add it to the device list.
- Now you can use normal commands such as ‘Alexa, turn on pressure pump’ to turn the device on and off.
Some of these applications also allow if IFTT (if this then that) setup. This can be used to set conditional statements such as to turn off an AC or geyser when you leave the room or turn off the geyser automatically after a stipulated period of time, etc.
Other use cases centered around home
Another application that can be performed similarly is to use motion sensors to turn lights on and off automatically. This can be especially useful in baby rooms for babies who are particularly scared of dark, restrooms, balconies, etc.
An additional application is to schedule a light to turn on automatically during evening. This has been particularly useful when we have gone on long trips to give the appearance of the house being occupied. Even though this is not Alexa driven, your device’s application can enable you to set up a schedule.
Wifi enabled motion cameras are available in the market that can be used to raise alarms when they detect motions or another person within view. This can be extremely useful when you are alerted about the presence of the intruder and can speak to the intruder through the in-built speaker within the camera. A wifi enabled siren can also prove infinitely useful to scare away intruders in such cases.
A water leak can be especially damaging to your home when you are on a long trip. Such leaks can be easily caught using a water sensor connected to your existing wifi network. Using the device’s application, you can monitor what is happening around your home.
Such water sensors can be placed around washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, sump pumps, or around sinks and bathtubs. Such water sensors can also be linked with a wifi enabled siren to raise an alarm in case of a leak.
Room for Alexa and IoT to grow
All said and done, Voice chatbots like Alexa and IoT still is a growing field. With an abundant sea of features to choose from, one of the features that if often forgotten is security. IoT and your phone have almost zapped your privacy to non-existence.
For example, Alexa indiscriminately follows the order of my son asking it to ‘Sing Baba’ and I asking it to ‘Read a recipe’. Just as easily as it would conveniently turn off the alarms for an intruder or disable security system in a home. Voice chatbots and AI still has to go a long way in being voice cognizant and ensuring system security.
This trite but important bit of design improvement will take Alexa from an AI to a secure AI that is empathetic and serves our base requirement of security.