With Amazon’s Alexa, smart homes just got smarter

by | Aug 31, 2016 | Blog, Denver Real Estate Market, Home & Lifestyle

We mere mortals are stuck with the IQ we were born with. But it seems that smart homes just keep getting smarter.

Consider Bill Pyszcymuka’s experience with the recently released Amazon Echo and its Siri-like voice assistant Alexa.

Pyszcymuka was installing an air-conditioner in an upstairs window last spring, according to a New York Times article, when he realized that he could control the machine without getting up from the couch downstairs. He figured out that the air-conditioner could be connected to an app that controls a Wi-Fi-connected power plug. “By plugging the air-conditioner into the smart power outlet,” notes the Times, “he could turn the air-conditioner on or off just by speaking a command to the Echo.”

“The moment of truth came when I asked, ‘Alexa, turn on the air-conditioner,’” he said. “The unit beeped upstairs, with Alexa telling me, ‘O.K.’ I thought it was more than O.K. It was cool.”

Echo is one of the newest additions to the smart world, a product many say is taking smart technology to the next level. While initially limited to 13 skills, such as playing music, setting timers and telling the weather, it has now mastered 300 skills. In fact, Alexa is so plugged in that she can help with everything from adjusting your thermostats to reading you an article you request from Wikipedia. She’s being used, notes the Times, as “a shopping assistant, kitchen companion and home automation tool.”

Just how smart is Alexa?

She’s a wiz in the kitchen. If you’re busy cooking, Alexa can offer information without you having to Google something with your sticky fingers. Want to double a recipe? Alexa will do it for you. Need to know how many tablespoons are in a cup? Alexa will make the conversion.

Connect Alexa to other systems and you can tell her to turn off or on any appliance integrated into that system. “Now I can control my lights, the temperature of the apartment, and even turn on my video recording setup with a simple command,” says blogger Adam Dachis.

Among the questions Dachis routinely asks Alexa:

• Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.
• Alexa, turn the bedroom lights on.
• Alexa, turn the bedroom lights to 50%. (“Want less light in a room?” says Dachis, “Just specify a percentage!”)
• Alexa, turn the heat up to 72. (This requires a connected smart thermostat.)
• Alexa, what’s the weather? (If you want to know the weather somewhere else, add “in New York City” or the location you wish.)
• Alexa, what time is it? (As above, you can ask for the time in a specific location. “I find this super helpful when scheduling phone meetings and interviews with folks in other time zones,” says Dachis.)
• Alexa, what’s my commute? (She’ll give you the current length of time it will take to get from home to work.)
• Alexa, play audiobook “Animal Farm.” (“If you have a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in your library, it’ll play,” reports Dachis. “Swap for any book you have in your library.”)

That’s, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. New ways to utilize Alexa are constantly evolving, so many that New York Times writer Brian X. Chen warns Alexa can be habit-forming.

“The downside of forming a bond with Echo and Alexa?“ asks Chen. “You will wish it can help you with everything, everywhere — including filing an expense report on the go or turning down the volume of a loud co-worker.”

We’re willing to bet Alexa can do this, too— if we just wait a few years.

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