Evolution of a Blog

This blog has evolved as I have as a maker. It starts at the beginning of my journey where I began to re-tread my tires in the useful lore of micro electronics and the open-source software that can drive them. While building solutions around micro-electronics are still an occasional topic my more recent focus has been on the 3D Printing side of making.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On the Topic of Home Automation

I got an Amazon Alexa for Christmas this year.  Alexa on her own is pretty cool though there is still a lot of room for her to learn new things.  She and I struggle a little at times but I think a lot of our problem is the limited speed of our Internet connection.  Alexa is cloud based so she really needs that connection.  Given that she is largely cloud based there are improvements happening all the time which is kind of cool.

Alexa can be extended by adding little Echo units.  We now have one in the kitchen, in my office, and in the bedroom.  The Echo is an extension of the base Alexa unit and can not run without it.  So anyway, our primary use of these things is to play music or to listen to the radio.  You can say "Alexa play Adelle" or "Alexa play Radio One" and she does just that.  We are prime customers so we have access to Prime music but you can also upload your own music and play from you library.

One of the other cool things that we do with Alexa is to ask her to put things on the shopping list.  We can do this from practically any room in the house and when I go to do our online shopping I have the list at my finger tips.  We also do the usual of asking her about the weather, the current time (and for other locations), and for definitions of words and the like.  Looking up stuff on the Internet is an area that she needs to learn.  Siri can usually come up with a page based on a question to look something up.  It would be nice if Alexa could do this and then read the page.

One of the reasons that I got the Amazon device was its market penetration seems to be the best and it is still growing.  This means that Alexa will be a prime target for integration with other devices and with home automation solutions in particular.  That is the hope anyway!

What we have done is added a Smart Things home automation controller and integrated it with Alexa.  We have also gotten a lighting controller and have it integrated with Smart Things but that is for later talking about.

Here are the things that we have setup for Alexa and the Smart Things Controller:

  • Control of the following lights: 
    • Office Desk Light
    • Lounge Floor Standing Light
    • Lounge Ceiling and Wall Sconce Lights
    • Storage Area Light
    • Patio Light
    • House Sign Light
    • Bedroom Nightstand Light
  • Control of the following outlets
    • 3D Printer One
    • 3D Printer Two
  • Integrated with the following sensors
    • Office smoke
    • 3D Printer Temperature 
    • Storage area movement
    • Lounge movement
    • Patio movement
    • Patio light level
So the things that we can do, or have setup to do automatically, are:
  • Ask Alexa to Turn things on and off (Can be done via a phone app)
  • Turn on the lights in the lounge when motion is detected between midnight and dawn
  • Turn on the light in the storage area when motion is detected
  • Turn on the light in the patio when motion is detected (and it is dark)
  • Turn on the light on the house sign at dusk and then off at 8pm
  • Turn off a 3D Printer when it either gets hot or starts to smoke!
I also have the Harmony Hub that allows Alexa to control the TV but that is not working as dependably as I had hoped.  This may be as a result of our slow Internet connection so I am giving it a wait until we have our network upgraded later in the spring.

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