In the last two years, the voice assistant popularity has soared in the country. Amazon Echo devices are more popular than other brands in India, and multiple models are adorning homes. Its main function, playing music, guiding you through recipes, talking about the weather, and on occasion, telling unfunny jokes. The devices are relatively inexpensive and rely primarily on the home wifi connection. They can also be linked to your smart automation system in your home and become a smart home butler to all your whims and fancies. But you need to say the right thing, or else, Alexa will just get confused, and your command will go unanswered.
In my home, I have linked my Echo device to the KNX system through a dedicated KNX to the Alexa hardware component. What this device does is it takes a command made to Alexa over wifi, transmits to the wired KNX system in my home, and answers the command by turning on or off the requisite function demanded by me. All this is without latency (delay). But Alexa can only take specific commands that you preprogrammed into the skill section of the Alexa app. Herein lies the first big hurdle for the voice assistant; how to script the commands.
I am a firm believer that your entire home should be run on five commands max. That’s as much as you, the homeowner, should be asked to remember. Even one phrase out of place and Alexa will have no idea what you are asking of it. The KNX to Alexa device allows for up to 99 commands. Of course, you can add more modules to keep the functionality going. But it will only lead to mistakes and looking silly standing in the middle of your living room, demoing a function and having the nice lady’s voice say “sorry” for the fifth time. Brevity is the soul of wit my friends.
One example from my earlier usage of Alexa over KNX will clarify why Alexa should be used mainly for specific scene commands rather than individual controls. A couple of years back, I got the system installed and invested in the Alexa unit. My engineer in their infinite wisdom converted all the 96 functions set on my master panel over to Alexa, so I could have complete control of every single light and every fan and every AC and every curtain in my home. Great. Now came time to script these commands so that Alexa would know what to do. Let’s start with the living room. No. Of light circuits, 8. Ok. How do we script this? Ok, let’s try, “Alexa, turn on Sofa lights.” “Alexa, turn on TV lights.” But I have multiple TVs and sofas in the house. Ok ok. How about, “Alexa, turn on living TV lights,” and “Alexa, turn on study TV lights.” That solves that. Now come to the guest room (live alone. Spare room is guest room). Now five-light circuits that really don’t have a landmark bed or cupboard or vanity to connect in my script. Some of them are just illuminating the floor. Now what. Ok, “Alexa, turn on the guest light 1, light 2, and so on.” Different scripting per room. So you see, the true benefit of using voice to command Alexa to control the home automation system is in basic commands that can do multiple things at once. Let me give you some of my most used commands.
"Alexa, Good Evening."
"Alexa, Turn on the Kitchen."
Useful when I have to clean the dishes or open the takeout food containers and marvel at what I will be consuming. Sometimes my hands are occupied or dirty, and I don’t want to be touching the switch. I even have it programmed in Hindi for the benefit of my maid, “Alexa, kitchen chalu karo.”
Quick and easy way to leave home and ensure that all the lights, AC, fans, etc. switch off when you leave early in the morning, already late for work.
"Alexa, Good Morning."
Only programmed to my master bedroom, my script is simple; switch off the AC, turn on my bedside light to 40% dimming (dark curtains, no light permeates. I need an artificial source of light), and the boiler/geyser turns on allowing me a few spare minutes of slumber while the bathwater preps. Bliss, thy name is Alexa.
"Alexa, Good Night."
Same functionality as the goodbye scene. Most of the house turns off except for the master bedroom. I usually say this as I walk up the steps to my room, a bottle of water in hand. Alexa will turn off my living room while turning on my master bedroom lights and AC.
"Alexa, We Have Guests."
A simple command, but it lets the house know that multiple rooms are going to be occupied at once, mood lighting is turned on, curtains opened to show my lovely garden. The ACs are set to work in tandem, ensuring that the rooms remain pleasant while not overloading my usage.
Five-six commands are sufficient for me. These are what I primarily use most of the time. They have been defined by me over time, judging and anticipating my daily rituals. Thus, while they work similar to the functionality defined on my switches and my phone, there are some unique things that only Alexa can offer and truly offers “switch-free” comfort.