Amazon Echo Controls Belkin WeMo Light Switches & Phillips Hue Light Bulbs [video]
By now, you’ve probably heard of the Amazon Echo, Amazon.com’s new artificially-intelligent device that listens to you and answers your questions. And with the latest software upgrade, it (she?) has entered the home automation arena and can perform some tasks around the house.
Think of Echo as Apple’s Siri technology inside a black cylinder about nine inches high and three inches in diameter, with a blue-green LED circle around the top rim. Unlike Siri (designed to be mobile on Apple’s iPhone and iPad), Echo plugs into an electrical outlet, connects to your WiFi network, and sits on a table waiting for you to ask questions or give commands. Inside, Echo is a load of high-tech goodness, including two speakers and an array of seven noise-cancelling, omni-directional microphones. The microphones use what Amazon calls “on-device keyword spotting” to detect the device’s wake word – Alexa. Saying “Alexa,” followed by a question or command (for instance, “Alexa, tell me the weather.”), activates Echo (indicated by the LED light ring) and transmits your spoken words to the cloud where Amazon’s Web Services technology recognizes and responds to your request. You can ask Echo all types of general knowledge and current events questions, such as “Who is Abraham Lincoln?”, “Who won the Yankee’s game last night?”, and “How tall is Mt. Everest?” Echo responds instantly in a soothing, human-like voice (that is not at all creepy) with the information you requested.
Echo may have started out a little slow, with mixed reviews, but the folks at Amazon have released upgrades to Echo pretty consistently over the past weeks and months. One of the latest–and I think most important–improvements was the integration with Belkin WeMo devices and Philips Hue Connected Light Bulbs. I’ve had some Hue Bulbs for a while and I think they are great, but they are a bit pricey (although worth every cent because they are also multi-colored). But I don’t need colored bulbs everywhere, such as the entry and hallway, so when I heard about the Belkin WeMo Light Switches, I thought it was a great solution.
The WeMo switches replace the existing light switches in your house and are easy to swap out (it took about 30 minutes to install two). Once you install the new switches, you connect them with the WeMo app (I use an iPhone but they also work with Android) and then configure them on the Amazon Echo app. Unlike the Hue Bulbs, which have their own WiFi receivers in them, the bulbs in my ceiling fixtures have regular (dumb) bulbs. It’s the WeMo switches that are the brains of this operation–they have the WiFi receivers and they control the bulbs in those fixtures. Of course, you can still use the switches the old fashioned way, by flipping them on or off with your finger.
But the magic happens once it’s all set up because you can use your voice to turn your lights on and off. You simply tell the Echo to turn lights on and off. If you haven’t watched the video above, now is a good time to do it.
You may be asking yourself, “Whatever happened to The Clapper?” You remember: “Clap on, clap off, The Clapper.” That seemed like a handy way to turn your lights on and off without getting out of bed. Well, they still make them, and if you want one for old-times sake, pick one up on Amazon.
The bottom line: I love this whole set up. The Belkin WeMo Light Switches are great, well made and super cool. You can control them with the WeMo app, or bring them to the next level with the Amazon Echo integration. And there are a whole series of other WeMo products, light light bulbs, motion detectors, wall outlet switches and more. I think I’m going to have to continue to explore more of this cool stuff.