The voice controlled Bluetooth speaker and smart digital assistant known as Amazon Echo is now out of beta for anyone to purchase. This post beta period includes officially supported voice controlled home automation for Phillips Hue and and Belkin Wemo switches.
I remember when the Amazon Echo invitation only beta period launched. I saw the video and thought it had huge home automation potential since just about everybody knows that voice control is the future of smart home control.
Here is the marketing video Amazon used to promote the launch of the beta period back in November of 2014:
Notice how there is no mention of home automation features back in November?
Even so, I was going to try to snag an invitation and try to hack the API myself, but just didn’t know where to start to get an invitation.
Why would I want to go through all that trouble? Well, the Echo has 7 microphones (6 around and 1 on top) that give it incredible directional beam forming and noise cancelling abilities that allow it to accurately recognize your speech from anywhere in the room even while there is a lot of noise or even loud music playing. Amazon calls this far-field voice recognition:
You can even interrupt it while its speaking if you have a low attention span or become bored easily. That video link also contains a quick demo of the officially supported Wemo smart switch to control some lights.
And, if you are just too far away for the Echo to work reliably or in a different room altogether you can buy an optional voice remote for ~$30 that will allow you to issue voice commands to the device or simply play / pause / skip and control the volume.
Support for only Belkin Wemo and Phillips Hue is very limited and expensive especially for a light switch that doesn’t support dimming, but at least the supported Hue model includes a certified ZigBee hub called the Hue Bridge. The Hue Bridge is supposed to work with “50 friends of Hue” as well as Wink home automation network products.
This paves the way a bit for future support of more Wifi and Bluetooth devices and certainly makes it more hackable by those who simply can’t wait for official device support.
Here is a prime example of someone resourceful using a Raspberry Pi to emulate the officially supported Hue Bridge to make Alexa control unsupported devices:
There are also more ways to hack Echo that came into existence before any official support. This github project enabled control of a nest thermostat, lights and switches 6 months ago and has improved a little since then. Here is another github project does roughly the same thing and has a demo video here.
Amazon is on the right track to provide smart home features that most people probably want and it’s still a decent Bluetooth speaker if it falls short of expectations in the internet of things. IoT and automation enthusiast like myself are still left with many questions that need to be answered before handing over $179 like: Will there be a way to add scenes officially or unofficially? Will it integrate (or at least play nice) with Apple HomeKit, Google Nest and other home automation ecosystems?
Now that anybody can buy one I suspect the answers will come quickly within the next year.