How to Control Your Lights with Amazon Echo

Controlling your lights with Amazon Echo is science fiction come-to life-and now easy for every home owner to achieve, simply and easily at a low cost.
 

The Amazon Echo has 75% of the virtual assistant market share  with a deep range of lighting control and other home automation skills available now, outpacing Google Home and others.

Understanding how to control your lights with Amazon Echo, either before you invest in 1 (or more) or you’ve already bought installed and setup your Amazon Alexa, is important because there are some additional devices needed in your home to make controlling your lighting work and work smoothly.

Depending on the lighting control solution you have also installed, the setup process and exact methods of how to control your lights with Amazon Echo will vary and I have covered some of these variations below.

In short, its simple to setup, easy to use, and works reliably…oh and did I mention its awesome too!

With Diginet’s Sitara Lighting Control, home owners can get started for the cost of a smartphone with sophisticated, wireless lighting control, (including Voice control via Amazon Echo).

Welcome the future.  Read more about Diginet Sitara Here 

What is Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo is a range of voice assistants or voice command devices that allows users to issue voice commands to provide the desired outcome – in this instance control of your lighting.

Essentially the range of echo devices are (aesthetically pleasing) hardware devices you plug into a power point and connect to your home network via WiFi. If you don’t have an internet connection (?!) then it won’t work.

All devices have built in speakers to ‘speak’, play music, playback news, sound alarms etc., and built in microphones , for listening to your voice commands.

Some even have full colour screens for video viewing and video calls.

Depending on which version you buy the quality and capability of the mic and speakers varies.

I have an Amazon Echo DOT (think a mini version) and an Amazon Echo (a taller DOT with the same horizontal footprint) and the larger echo has a far better sound quality for playing music and better mic pickup from greater distances.

They are all capable of controlling lights in your home from voice commands and Alexa, the voice assistant ‘inside’ the Echo units, is the same across all Amazon Echo hardware.

Controlling lights in your home is one of many applications for Amazon Echo that once installed and activated means home owners never have to touch a light switch again.

Amazon Echo for NDIS

If that’s a scary thought for you, spare a moment for people with disabilities that find it difficult or impossible to press a light switch whether for physical capability deficit, height of the switch or the location accessibility.

Controlling your lights with Amazon Echo is as simple as issuing voice commands and lighting fast for all users, disabled or not.

Government programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will consider funding for these lighting control voice applications for people in need, when the correct processes have been followed.

 

So what’s the difference in the Amazon Echo Range?

You can buy these from a range of locations, mainly online and Officeworks also sells Amazon Echo in store.

There are a range of Echo devices to purchase:

  1.        Amazon Echo DOT – the small shallow version
  2.        Amazon Echo – The taller version which now has some attractive material covers.
  3.        Amazon Echo PLUS – the super tall one.
  4.        Amazon Echo Spot – Has a video screen and looks like a something from a sci-movie from the 70’s.
Amazon Echo Range - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Diginet Sitara

What else do I need to control my lights with Amazon Echo?

Of course, voice command lighting control doesn’t just happen when you buy your Amazon Echo.

You will also need to install or have installed some additional hardware that can control the types of lighting you have in your home, whether that be LED downlights, pendants, floor and table lamps or outdoor flood lights.

Some of these very simple controls plug into your wall socket and some more sophisticated lighting control systems need to be installed by an electrician.

Some even need specialists lighting integration experts, but be aware of ongoing costs in those scenarios as they can be significant, but some come with additional benefits too.

My recommendation is that its best to find a system that balances initial cost, ease of installation and cost of future changes you might need to the settings or integrations to other systems in your home.

You will also need to make sure that whatever lighting control system you choose that it:

  1. Can be connected to the internet
  2. Has an available Alexa Skill
  3. The Alex skill works in Australia and is maintained!
When you issue voice commands to your Echo, in the background the software searches your Alexa account for connections to one of these smart home lighting skills.

Every manufacturer makes their own Alexa skill, so depending on your lighting control hardware, you will need to have the correct skill installed in your Alexa App.

The SITARA Home Lighting Control systems use the Avi-On App, which is a free download, as most are.

SITARA is a new Australian designed lighting control system which uses new Bluetooth Wireless Mesh technology to provide control from all Bluetooth enabled devices like the modern iPhone and Android devices and eliminates the need for an expensive additional HUB to be installed.

Amazon Echo Range - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Diginet Sitara
You can read more about Bluetooth Wireless mesh here and find out why this is the future of home lighting control.

Note: make sure you download the Amazon Alexa app for the correct country otherwise this will not work.

For iPhone users, Amazon will only show you the right App depending on which App store you are logged into.
Once this is all setup correctly you will be able to issue the relevant commands and control your lighting from all over your home.

Depending on the size of your home you can install multiple Amazon Echo devices and they’ll all communicate and provide feedback and operate your lighting.

The microphones are very good, and better on the larger Echo versus the DOT.

With the Avi-On App on your phone you can also control your lighting directly from the app if for some reason, an Echo was not within earshot or your internet connection was not working.

Diginet Sitara - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Echo
As the Diginet SITARA lighting control systems uses Bluetooth Wireless mesh, it does not need your WiFi modem or router to be operational or connected to the internet to control lighting from your phone, inside your home.

If you don’t have your phone or its out of battery, and you can’t talk to your Echo, then with SITARA you can always use the Diginet Sitara Wireless wall switch, which communicates via Bluetooth and runs on 3 x included watch batteries.

sitara bluetooth switch

Or you can operate the lighting from your LEDsmart+ dimmer switch installed on the wall plate.

This way you have 4 different ways to control the lighting in your home depending on your situation and where you are in your home.

Importantly, you can always control your lights!

What are the Amazon Echo Light commands?

When controlling your lights with Amazon Echo voice commands you can use a set of simple commands which are all straight forward.

Here’s a simple selection of common lighting control voice commands for use with Amazon Alexa.

You can nominate the wake-up word from a few available such as Alexa, Echo, Amazon and Computer.

I like to use Alexa…

“Alexa…”

· “Turn all lights on/off”
· “Lights on/off”
· “Bedroom/kitchen/dining/ etc. lights on/off”
· “Kitchen lights to 50%”
· “Kitchen lights to 20%”
· “Switch outdoor lights off”
· “Dim bedroom lights to 5%”

There is a complete list of Amazon Echo voice commands if you’re interested.

Alexa Dim my lights - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Diginet Sitara

How to control my lights from my phone?

As Amazon Echo needs to connect to a lighting control system to control your lights, this means you must have this lighting control system installed in your home.

Most of these systems also provide an App for iPhone, iPad or Android devices to provide home owners mobile device control of their lighting too.

To control your lights from your phone its a simple matter of opening the app and using the interface provided.

iPhone with AVI-on App - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo  - Diginet
These Apps and Amazon Echo should work together and not fight each other for control.

That is, if I tell Amazon Echo to turn off my bedroom lights, this should be represented in the App interface, and I can then use that app to turn the lights back on.

This is a typical operation for lighting control systems which are event based.

That is, the last message takes precedence. Or to state that another way, whatever command was last issued is what I will do.

Can I ask Alexa to turn lights on at a specific time?

This really depends on the Alexa skill provided by the system manufacturer and to date I have not seen Alexa being able to do this.

However, it is possible, and again is normally configured through the mobile App for the lighting control system you have installed.

The SITARA solution provides the ability create 7-day schedules allowing home owners the ability to setup multiple lighting schedules, even to the extent of creating holiday modes where the system simulates you being home whilst you’re away on holidays.

This type of scheduling capability opens the door to a lot of smart home automation schedules and Amazon Echo can override all of these at the command of your voice so you have complete control at all times.

How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Diginet Sitara - Amazon Echo

Can I control my lights in groups?

Again, this depends on the Alexa Skill and the capabilities of the system installed.

An example of light grouping could be your kitchen, where you have some pendants over your island bench, some downlights and some under counter LED strip.

Rather than always turning on all lights, you want the ability to control these separately and this is normally determined by how your electrician has wired the lighting circuits.

However, there will be times when you want to control ALL the kitchen lights as a group and be able to turn them on/off, dim them down and fade them up together, as a group.

control of your kitchen - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo - Diginet Sitara
You may also want to group entire rooms together, such as a large open living space which has multiple lighting circuits.

Using that kitchen idea again, if I wanted to control all the lights in my kitchen AND all the lights in my lounge room AND all the lights in my dining room as 1 group.

As with many of these functions it depends on the Alexa skill and the lighting control system’s capabilities.

Sticking with the Diginet SITARA system, it is possible and very simple to create lighting control groups by dragging and dropping, the individual dimmers into a new group, and giving it a name.

In this scenario, if my group was called ‘Living’ I would be able to issue the command to my Amazon Echo…

“Alexa turn Living to 75%”

…and all lighting circuits with the SITARA Wireless Bluetooth dimmer installed and grouped into my lighting group called ‘LIVING’ from the AVI-On App would turn on to 75% light output! BAM!

Heading out the door in a hurry? No problem.

“Alexa, turn all lights off…”

How is Amazon Echo different from other Home Automation Systems?

Amazon Echo and voice assistants like it are changing the way home owners interact with technology and the way we control our homes.

The Echo devices act as a voice gateway into other connected systems – in this case lighting control – and allow simpler, more intuitive command for the whole family.

And it’s not just lighting, there are Amazon home automation skills for a wide range of devices from audio solutions, to security, door access, air conditioning and more.

Amazon Echo now provides points where these multiple systems can be brought together.

It’s a change in approach from disparate systems talking to each other in a peer-to-peer approach (traditionally installed physically in the home) to a model where there are aggregation points higher up the communication chain.

The onus is then on companies to engineer their products to support these aggregation points (Alexa, Google Home, etc) rather than develop bespoke interfaces for each of the system out there that customers may wish to link their system to.

If customers have a single point where they can control all the systems in their house then that gives the user experience of having an integrated system, even if that aggregation point is the only point at which all the underlying systems come together.

So, whilst the old way of doing things was to have them speak to each other directly and physically connected over cable or WiFi and other radio signals (peer-to-peer), this new paradigm is to leverage the time, money, research and skills of these tech giants (Amazon/Google) and use their platforms as the HUB for controlling everything – without these things necessarily communicating to each other.

What else can I do with Amazon Echo?

Other than controlling your lights these Amazon Echo devices can be used for a range of functional, fun, absurd and silly reasons.

Here’s a list of the ones my family and I use most often in my home.

· Control your lights!
· Alarms
· Timers
· Lists
· Conversions when cooking for measurements etc.
· Facts and figures
· Shopping lists
· Calendar Events
· Play music – from your phone or via Amazon Music
· Flash briefings – a list of news, weather, traffic and other content you have subscribed and plays, in sequence, from this one command.
· Tell Jokes, play games, read stories

If you have multiple Amazon Echos in your home you can even use Echos as an intercom system and make announcement to all connect devices using a simple command set, in your own voice.

This is not available in Australia at the time of writing.

Echo as an intercom - How to Control your lights with Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo security issues

With any new technology that is cloud based, installed in people’s homes and always on, privacy concerns are heightened and valid.

The Echo devices do record every command you issue and they store those on the Amazon server.

It is possible to delete the Amazon Echo commands recorded if you are concerned about privacy or you have been saying bad things about Alexa, your spouse or others that you’d rather were not stored on a server somewhere.

Stories of Amazon Alexa being hacked can be found easily with a quick Google search , but in most cases it involves people modifying the devices or testing for Amazon Echo vulnerabilities.

These Echo devices can be updated ‘over-the-air’ so a software patch which is automatically downloaded, probably without most home owners even knowing, will fix these issues as they are found or Skills with vulnerabilities will be removed or disabled until fixes are made.

With between 15 million and 30 million devices now sold and in people homes across the world, there is a large enough installed base to be well tested and updates installed when issues are found.

The Amazon Echo has some privacy settings which you can edit and make your own to provide you the level of security you desire.

Here are some Amazon Security tips if you really want to control your lights with Amazon Echo but you are precious about your security and privacy.

 

TURN OF THE MIC

First, you can simply turn off the mic using the hardware buttons on top of the device. This will turn the ring red and the mic will be disabled. But remember, if you’ve disabled the mic, and you’re yelling at Alexa at 11:00 at night to turn you bedroom lights off – she wont be listening.

 

PURCHASE PIN

Second, if and when purchasing is enabled in Australia, as in America, you will be able to set a PIN number for purchasing, which must be spoken prior to making any purchases.

 

CONTROL DROP-IN

Third, the Drop in feature, whereby from your mobile device, from anywhere in the world you can connect to you Amazon Echo at home and listen ( and see if you have an Echo with a screen and Camera).

You can keep this on, turn it off or limit it to just your (Amazon) household group.

 

So the simple question, how do I control my lights with Amazon Echo, is ultimately very simple and easy, but you need to be well educated and informed of additional requirements and valid privacy concerns.