An assortment of smart home devices

Home Automation With Alexa, My New Best Friend

My smart television has Amazon Alexa, and I’ve been learning to use her. I can change the channel and increase/decrease the volume with voice commands.

In the meantime, I also heard about Amazon’s Echo Dot. It’s a little voice-activated device that can automate many tasks in your house. This could be very useful for someone with macular degeneration. It can also provide lots of entertainment and information.

Taking advantage of technology

Emboldened by my success with the television, and encouraged by Black Friday sales, I decided to try the Echo Dot. I brought her home, plugged her in, and connected her to my home Wi-Fi. Then I downloaded the Alexa app on my phone and connected her to that. She’s tiny and sits comfortably on the coffee table.

My parents found many tasks difficult as their macular degeneration progressed. I want to take advantage of technology to help me with some of those tasks, now and in the future.

Getting to know the Echo Dot

I sat down with my new friend and started by asking her the time and the date (my Dad was always asking people the time and date when he had trouble seeing his watch.) I could have looked at the calendar on the wall, but hey, I’m planning for the future!

That task was way too easy for her, so we progressed to the news. She read that to me with ease, and we got the weather sorted out, too.

Grocery lists

We were ready to attempt a shopping list. I said “Alexa, add bread to my shopping list,” and she said, “I have added bread to your shopping list, is there anything else?” I said, “not now thanks.” Then she said, “I have added 'not now thanks' to your shopping list.” I must work on not being so polite to her and just say “no!”

She can print out the list too, but I haven’t been able to get her to talk my printer yet. That’s a work in progress.

Music

Playing music was one thing I really wanted her to do. She will now play any song or artist I want to hear, and keep going until I ask her to stop. She remembers what I like and will make suggestions if I ask.

She can play radio stations too – my parents had trouble tuning in the radio as their sight worsened, which was a shame, as they loved their music. The Echo Dot has that covered for me.

It took a while to get used to choosing the best volume for her. It depends on whether I’m in the mood for some good ol’ rock and roll, or I just want to calmly listen to a podcast.

After getting her to adjust the volume a few times for a podcast, she had it just right. I told her it was perfect. I settled back to listen to the podcast, but she started playing a song instead. I was puzzled until I realized she was playing “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. More work to do there!

Lighting

I wanted Alexa to be able to turn my lights on and off. After buying the smart globes, I had to download an app for that brand of globe. Then I connected the globes to their own app. Finally, I connected them to the Alexa app.

I made some groups called Lounge Room, Bedroom, Hall, Downstairs, etc and can operate the lights as a group or individually. If I don’t want to bother with that, I can just say “Alexa, turn on all lights” and later “Alexa, turn off all lights.”

It certainly beats bending down to find the on/off switch for numerous lamps throughout the house. And I can have different colors and brightness!

Small tip from experience: after you name the lights, try to resist the temptation to move them around. If “Hall” gets moved to “Bedroom” and “Downstairs” comes up to “Lounge Room” you’re in a lot of trouble!

Blossoming friendship

Like any new friendship, this one is developing slowly, and this is just the start. It is not without its ups and downs. But it is promising.

I can listen to the radio and music, make a shopping list and turn all lights on and off with just my voice. It gives me more confidence for the future. I feel very lucky, and wish this technology had been around to help my parents.

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