Voice Controlled Smart Home Tech – User review

Amazon Echo smart speaker

Over the course of history there have always been single named women who have influenced our lives and Culture: Cleopatra, Maggie, Madonna, and now it’s the turn of Alexa! I have been curious and intrigued by the benefits of technological assistants with regards my disability, so I was very excited when Enable Ireland gave me an opportunity to try out Alexa in the form of the Amazon Echo.

How easy is it to get the Echo up and running?

The initial setup of the Amazon Echo is very simple to carry out. You need to download the Amazon Alexa app to your smartphone (get used to downloading apps on your phone), the app will search for the device, the app will then connect to the device through the devices own Wi-Fi signal, you then connect your device to your home broadband, and hey presto within a few minutes your Amazon Echo is up and running.

What can Alexa do on its own?

Alexa logo - speech bubble - blue on while circle on blue background - square
Alexa Logo

The initial benefits of the Amazon Echo for a person with a disability are very limited. You can ask Alexa what the weather will be like, what time it is, to set reminders, and some other quirky less useful questions: “Alexa, tell me a joke”, “What’s the capital of Finland?”, or more randomly “Alexa, beatbox for me”.

Using the Alexa app you can enable other skills to assist you in your daily activities. If you are into music you can add 🙂 your Spotify profile to Alexa, this is very simple to do if you can use a smartphone. Alexa will then play your playlists through its impressive speakers. This is very handy, even for someone who is not into music much, as it means I don’t need to listen to music through my basic phone speakers nor do I have to call someone to change a cd in my stereo. It is great for podcasts as well, though as Alexa sometimes has difficulty understanding people you might be better off setting up a playlist through your Spotify app first if any of your favourite podcasts have quirky names like my favourite Arsenal podcast Arsecast by Arseblog!

If you have vision impairment, have difficulty holding a book, or you just like Audiobooks you can quickly add your Audible account too, tilt back in your chair and listen to your favourite book or a new release. It can also update you with the latest news, traffic, and weather for your area as well.

If you have trouble with your memory because of a head injury, or you just have a head like a sieve as I do, the reminders and timers could be very useful. I normally add reminders to my phone as I can’t write them down but just immediately calling them out is useful as sometimes I go to add them to my phone and get distracted by Twitter and the likes. The timers are useful if you’re cooking and the chicken needs just five minutes more.

What can Alexa do using IOT – The Internet Of Things?

For someone with a physical disability this is where it really sparked my interest. I struggle with some aspects of technology and to physically control my environment so I thought I would benefit from Alexa and the Echo.

Smart WeMo Plug

wemo smart plug in double socket
WeMo Plug

Firstly I decided to set up the lamp in my sitting room. In order to use Alexa to switch on your light you either need a smart plug or you need smart bulbs and a Wi-Fi hub. Enable Ireland had also provided me with a WeMo smart plug in this instance. The setup for the WeMo smart plug was very similar to the initial setup of the Amazon Echo: download the app, connect to the devices own Wi-Fi, and connect the device to your home broadband.

Once you have that done you can control the lamp directly from your smartphone only if you wanted, in order to connect it to the Alexa you need to go back to the Alexa app and pair the Alexa with the WeMo smart plug from there. 

Overall it is very simple System and process and once you have it up all you have to do is say “Alexa, turn on the lamp”. This was a complete success and over the time I had the devices this is the one that proved most simple to use and most consistent. It was lovely if I was on my own for a little while coming toward evening, I could give that simple command and “Let there be light!”

Firestick TV

Amazon Firestick

The other devices I had to connect to the Echo were related to the TV. I use an Amazon fire stick to play games on my TV and also to watch Netflix. I knew from watching YouTube videos that you could pair your Amazon Echo with your fire stick and use Alexa to open Netflix and play your movies and shows.

Unfortunately this was not so easy to carry out. It seemed simple at first, get your Alexa device to scan your Wi-Fi for compatible devices and when you see the Firestick click connect. Unfortunately this is where I ran into some problems. In order to get the Alexa to carry out these procedures I had to enable its TV skills through the app. I had to do something similar to set up my Spotify account so I wasn’t too worried at first. Frustratingly when I went into the app to enable that TV skill the screen went blank and gave me no options to enable it. After numerous attempts to carry this out and searches on the internet to find a solution I eventually contacted Amazon’s online support and having gone through three advisors I found the solution by enabling it through my laptop and my Amazon account on the Desktop site. Phew!

The results of that is I can come into sitting room in the morning, with the TV turned off, and ask Alexa to open Netflix. If you know the name of the movie or show you want to watch you can ask Alexa to open it directly. You can play, pause and fast forward or rewind whatever you are watching. This has been very helpful for me is the remote for my fire stick is tiny and the buttons are incredibly difficult to press. If you are a movie buff and have difficulties using small remotes then this solution is probably worth all the hassle it took to set it up in the first place!

Harmony Hub

Logitech Harmony Hub universal IR remote control
Harmony Hub

In the package from Enable Ireland there was also a Logitech Harmony Hub. At first, I had no idea what it was. I had never heard of it before. A bit of Googling revealed that it is a universal remote control. A bit of YouTubing revealed that it could be paired with Alexa to turn on and control a whole host of electronic devices including your TV, Stereo System, or Sky Box.

This is a complex setup. You set up the Harmony hub much the same way as you do the other devices. So again that means you need to download another app to connect it to your Wi-Fi, I hope you have enough space on your smartphone!  Once it is set up and ready to go you need to use the Alexa app to enable the Harmony Hub skill so Alexa can communicate with the Harmony Hub. Now use the Harmony App to scan for smart devices that may be on your Wi-Fi already, like a smart TV. If you have something that is not smart like my Sky box, you simply search in the app for the product and add it to your list of devices. Right, now that you have your devices listed and the Hub and Alexa can talk to one another what can you tell them to do?

Using the Harmony app you can set up a range of “activities”. These are relatively easy to set up as you follow a step by step process through the app. Quite quickly I had it set up so that I could tell Alexa to turn on the TV, it would turn on the TV and set it to the Sky TV extension immediately. I also set it up so I could increase and decrease the volume of the TV and I could change the ordinary terrestrial channels on the TV. I have seen that you can change channels on your Sky box and set “favourite channels” to tune to quickly but, frustratingly, while I can do that through the Harmony app on my phone I haven’t been able to do that using Alexa despite numerous and persistent attempts. Apparently, it is possible if you set an “activity” for each individual channel but life is too short!

If you are technically proficient enough and you have a big enough budget there are whole host of other devices you could use with the Alexa to smarten up your home whether it is to control your heating or even to unlock your door!

Are there Privacy Issues?

screenshot of Alexa terms of use
Alexa terms of Use

There are some concerns about privacy and the Alexa. Some of the stories surrounding this issue I’m sure have been exaggerated for headlines but there is a basis to some of the concern too with Amazon admitting that staff listen to people’s interactions with Alexa (I think they’ll get a laugh from some of my frustrated interactions where Alexa was called everything under the sun while I tried in vain to control the Sky box via Alexa).

The Terms of Use is the first thing you’ll see when you download the Alexa app. This sort of sets the tone for what to expect with Alexa.

I know from my experience with the Alexa that there have been some strange happenings. During conversations in the same room as the Alexa the blue light that indicates Alexa is listening has come on. On another occasion Alexa has piped up with search results that were not asked for in the middle of a conversation. Nothing too sinister I’m sure but something I’m personally not too comfortable with.

It’s up to you whether you’re willing to give up that sense of personal privacy in place of the benefits Alexa provides.

Conclusion

I was very excited to try out the Amazon Echo and Alexa. I felt this was my opportunity to finally make up my mind on whether to purchase one or not, a decision I had been debating over for some time.

Alexa promises so much to help me with my physical disability. Overall in this aspect it did live up to expectation. It was frustrating that I couldn’t manage to set it up to operate my Sky box but I was able to set it up to use most the functions on my TV, and the Alexa in conjunction with the WeMo plug gave the most satisfying and consistent function of switching my sitting room lamp on and off. If I were to purchase an Echo I would consider investing further into the other devices that could do as the WeMo plug did.

The other aspects of the Echo were less beneficial to me as they didn’t involve improving my access to my physical environment. That does not take away from the fact that they could be hugely beneficial for someone with a different disability such as a sensory disability: reminders, timers, your Spotify, and your Audiobooks through Alexa would simplify so many parts of a person’s life.

For someone with a high level disability or someone who has difficulty using a smartphone the set up process of the Echo itself may be a little complex. The set up process for some of the “activities” on the Harmony Hub would take the most seasoned of smartphone users to the point where they just give up (ie. me 🙂

The initial cost of the Amazon Echo is very affordable. However, if someone with a disability wishes to use the Echo and Alexa to its full potential to make their lives more independent then they will need to spend a lot more. A quick Google suggested that a Wi-Fi plug similar to the WeMo plug is €22 each while a Harmony Hub remote is available for approximately €120. So if you’re hoping to live in a completely smart home it’s going to be difficult if you’re sole source of income is your Disability Allowance.

All that being said, that decision I have been debating over for some time, have I made it? Well, in a sense I have. I am fortunate to be able to use my mobile phone without much difficulty so in the short term I think I will get a Harmony Hub which will allow me to carry out most of what Alexa has been doing for me on this trial but through my phone and without the worry of Amazon employees listening in on me. In the medium to long term I’m sure I’ll revisit Alexa or even the Google equivalent!

Ever thought about using your wheelchair joystick to send an e mail or turn on your lights?

BJlive BJoy ring controlling a mobile phone

It is easy for someone to assume that their wheelchair can only be used for driving.  However, wheelchair manufacturers have developed their products in recent years and considered the needs of the user such as the need to also interact with their mobile phone, PC or even a TV.  As well as the basic chair functions such as driving or controlling the actuators these electronic systems can also enable control of a computer or portable devices and so the integration of environmental controls is possible on most power wheelchairs. The same controls that the user drives the power wheelchair with, typically a joystick, can also be used to control an appliance within their environment.  Another benefit of integrating control of other devices within the wheelchair joystick is that it may help to ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating other devices.

All of the main wheelchair controller manufacturers have Bluetooth mouse options, including Dynamics Controls with their Linx controller, Curtis instrument’s quantum q-logic controller, and Curtiss-Wright – Rnet controls.

CJSM2 bluetooth power wheelchair JoystickFor example for chairs with R-net controls you can replace the old joystick with a CJSM2 –BT as seen in the picture here.  This R-net Joystick Module has Infra-Red (IR) capabilities included. IR technology is widely used to remotely control household devices such as TVs, DVD players, and multi-media systems, as well as some home-automation equipment. Individual IR commands can be learned from an appliance’s remote handset and stored in the CJSM2.  Also Integrated Bluetooth technology is an option, to enable control of computers, Android tablets, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices from a powered wheelchair. To switch between the devices, the user simply navigates the menu and selects the device they wish to control.  The R-net’s CJSM2 can easily replace the existing rnet joystick module, with no system re-configuration or programming required.

Although not all power wheelchairs can be fitted with Bluetooth mouse-enabled joysticks, there are some good alternatives that may still work.  The BJoy ring is a sensor that can be fitted to most wheelchair joysticks where deflections of the joystick can be translated to mouse movements picked up on a Bluetooth mouse receiver placed on a tablet or PC.

  • The good: Users can do many daily tasks using one device
  • The not so good: This capability is only available on high spec wheelchair systems.
  • The verdict: Using a wheelchair joystick that is Bluetooth enabled will ensure the user maintains a good posture while operating their other devices.

Window Opener

ACK4 Window Opener on a PVC window

Automatic window openers were design to meet the need of inaccessible windows that are out of reach such as skylights on roofs.  Using a wireless remote to activate the window opener we can open and close the window at ease.  For people with a mobility restriction window openers can give independence to control ventilation in their living space. The ACK4 Window Opener is suitable for aluminium and timber windows.  It has an anti-crush control board to prevent trapped fingers.  To control the window, you can either use a wall switch, an infrared remote control or a 433 Mhz radio control transmitter. The window actuator with remote costs about £240.

Using a Broadlink RM Pro could make a window opener become part of your smart home setup and hence then possibly voice controlled.


More information

The good: Can be fitted to any window and there are various options to control the window actuator.

The not so good:  Complicated installation and will require an electrician.

The verdict: Will give increased independence to control ventilation for people with a mobility restriction.

Smart blinds

Motorised blinds and curtains have been around for many years, providing easy access to control blinds and curtain rails.  Control of these motorised devices was usually with the use of a radio remote control, which made such devices particularly of interest for people with mobility issues.  Internet of Things (IoT) has now extended its internet connectivity to these everyday objects. Embedded with technology, these devices can communicate and interact over the internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.

An example of this is Somfy motorization systems.  These systems consist of a range of motorised blinds, curtains and roller shutters.  The Somfy myLink™ is a device that turns your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for motorized products featuring Somfy Radio Technology.  For voice control, Alexa now works with myLink!

Somfy mylink app for Smart blinds

Purchasing new blinds or curtains rails could work out to be quite expensive, and possible wasteful if you already have good blinds in place, however, there are a number of options available to retrofit existing blinds to also consider.  They are able to transform your standard home blinds into smart electric blinds and do so at an affordable price.  Like the Somfy blinds, they also provide a way to raise, lower and choose an intermediate position of the blind.

Blind Engine

Blind Engine smart blind

The Brunt Blind Engine can motorize your existing blinds and connect to your smartphone, allowing remote control and scheduling of your blinds anywhere, anytime.

It is designed to be compatible with most roll-type blinds available on the market,
allowing blinds of all different shapes and sizes to be successfully fitted.

The Blind Engine comes with two different gears designed to accommodate string cords and ball chains.  With the Brunt App, you can raise and lower multiple blinds at the same time. (No extra monthly charge for the Brunt application)
You can use the Brunt Blind Engine with various voice recognition speakers.
Cost online $129

Axis Gear

Axis gear smart blinds

AXIS Gear is an affordable and easy way to motorize your window shades. Gear is a smart device that lets you easily control and schedule when your shades open and close.  Axis say the install and setup of Gear takes minutes and guarantees to fit your shades or your money back.

Included are a solar panel and backup AA batteries. The App allows the creation of schedules and smart home integration.

Cost online $250

My Smart Blinds (only tilts shade)

My smart blinds kit

The MySmartBlinds Automation Kit controls only the tilting of your horizontal blinds on a schedule and on demand from your smartphone.

Automation Kit includes:

  • Motor box
  • Battery pack
  • Manual switch
  • Rod adapters for all tilt rod shapes
  • Solar panel/charging cable optional extra.

Cost online        $129

Soma Smart Shades

Soma Smart Shade

The SOMA Smart Shades is designed to fit your existing shades and curtains with a continuous-cord. Continuous-cord shades have one looped string or beaded chain that allows you to raise and lower the bottom of the shades. Attach the device to your shades or blinds with a beaded chain or string, download the mobile app, follow the instructions and you’re ready to go. Automated schedules can be created and it is possible to control multiple windows from one mobile app. It is Android & iOS supported. Smart Shades are solar powered with a built-in lithium battery. By installing the SOMA Connect, you can control your shades with your voice, as it works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

Cost online  $149

Smart door locks

Most smart locks are installed on mechanical locks such as deadbolts.  They typically upgrade the ordinary lock. Recently, there have been a number of smart locks that have appeared on the market that provide the convenience of being able to lock and unlock your door from anywhere, or passing on to people you trust a passcode to open the door.

Smart locks, like the traditional locks, need two main parts to work: the lock and the key. In the case of these electronic locks, the key is a smartphone or a special key fob configured explicitly for this purpose which wirelessly performs the authentication needed to automatically unlock the door.  With some smart locks, the physical key may still be used in case the batteries of the lock have run too low.  Generally, the smart door locks operate with 4 AA batteries, so no hard wiring is required.

Most smart locks will feature access by entering a code, instead of fumbling for keys.  It is easy to share access with trusted friends/family. They are battery-operated and so should still accept access codes on the touchscreen during home power outages.  They all claim to be easy to install with just a screwdriver (providing holes for the lock are already installed in the door).

Smart Lock manufacturers generally have their own app to set up and control the door locks but can often be controlled by other smartphone apps such as Samsung Smartthings or will work with Apple HomeKit, which is software on Apple iOS devices that lets users configure and control smart-home appliances.

Some locks you can use hands-free voice control with Amazon Alexa-enabled devices or Google Assistant-enabled devices.  This includes verbally locking or checking the status of the front door.  This may require the addition of a wifi adaptor for the lock.

Smart locks can be used with a smart doorbell to allow the user to see or communicate with someone at a door before unlocking.  These are now mainstream products, available in computer and online stores.  These types of products can help support independent living for people with disabilities.

Below is a range of the newer smart door locks.

Nest x Yale Lock

Nest x Yale Lock on a red door

With Yale known for their locks and Nest known for their connected home, they have come together to make a key‑free deadbolt that connects to the Nest app. As with many smart locks you can lock and unlock your door from anywhere or give people you trust a passcode, instead of a key.

When the Nest/Yale Lock is connected to the Nest app, you can unlock your door from your phone or create passcodes for family and guests. Even set times when passcodes expire. You can get alerts whenever someone unlocks and locks the door. And when Nest knows you’re away, your door can lock automatically.

Yale Real Living® Touchscreen Deadbolt

Yale Real Living Touchscreen Deadbolt on a door

The absence of the cylinder provides a “clean” appearance and means that lock picking will be difficult. It eliminates the need to manage keys for your door.

In the event the batteries die – a 9V battery provides enough power to enter the code and gain access to the lock.

The touchscreen keypad illuminates for night time access.

It is available in ZigBee® or Z-Wave® configurations

More information

Schlage Sense™ Smart Deadbolt

Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt, ourdoor part

As with all the smart locks, the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt claims to be easily installed with just a screwdriver.  It has a pre-set, unique 6 digit programming code, and a capacity for 30 access code (4-8 digits)

What makes it different from the other smart locks is that it features a built-in alarm to sense potential door attacks.

It works with Apple HomeKit. With the Schlage Sense Wi-Fi Adapter plugged into an outlet within the home and connected to the home Wi-Fi, you can lock/unlock from anywhere using an iPhone or Android smartphone.

You can use your lock hands-free, through voice control with Amazon Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Dot if you pair your Schlage Sense WiFi Adapter with your Schlage Sense lock. Learn more about Alexa features here and similar to Alexa, you’ll be able to use hands-free voice control with Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home.

Learn more

Kwikset’s SmartCode electronic locks

Kwikset’s SmartCode electronic lock on a door

This electronic lock features a battery-operated keypad or touchscreen, eliminating the need for keys. Enter your home with a unique access code or lock your door with the touch of a button.

Kwikset’s SmartCode electronic locks offer a touchscreen and touchpad for a keyless entry that fits on any standard door.  Z-wave and ZigBee options available.  The touchpad with buttons may have the advantage that it consists of raised buttons for someone with a visual impairment.  The back-lit keypad provides increased visibility.

The SmartCode touchpad smart lock with Home Connect technology enables the lock to wirelessly communicate with other devices in the home. The lock allows the user (through a third-party smart home controller) to remotely check the door lock status, lock or unlock the door and receive notifications via email or text.  Kwikset say SmartCode is easy to install, program and use.  It operates on 4 AA batteries. It also features SmartKey Security as the back-up keyway.

Learn more

Video doorbells

Video door bell user commmunication on their phone to a group outside at the door
Video doorbells bring both convenience and security to your home by streaming a live view of the doorstep to your smartphone, whether you are on the other side of the door or the other side of the world. For someone with a disability, these could be quite useful products as they let you check who is there before answering. Your smartphone is notified the moment motion is detected or the doorbell is pressed. You can speak to visitors through the doorbell’s microphone and speaker.
Used in combination with a smart lock they could replace older technologies such as a video door intercom for door entry. There are now a number of smart video doorbells products available, as can be seen below.

Ring video doorbell

Nest video doorbell

Blink Video Doorbell

The good: You wont miss another call on the door whether you are on the other side of the door, or the other side of the world.

The not so good: If your home Wi-Fi stops working so does your doorbell.

The verdict: Promotes living independently for people with disabilities by providing a secure door entry system.

See our smart door lock post

Promoting independent living

One of the dangers for people with disabilities living independently are the risks associated with cooking which can result in a fire.  However, there are a number of devices we can use to reduce or even eliminate this danger in cooking.  These devices can promote independent living when using the cooker is risky due to old age, memory disorders, disability, or learning difficulties. These devices aim to protect the area of a home most at risk of catching fire, the kitchen.

lnnohome Stove Guard

Innohome stove guard kit

The lnnohome Stove Guard is a cooker safety device that monitors the hob use and registers when the user is not present. If the cooker has been left on the Timer turns it off.  The Stove Guard will also identify a dangerously high temperature or steep temperature rise, and recognizes the alarm signals of fire, gas and carbon monoxide alarms. An Automatic Safety Lock ‘locks’ the cooker so that it cannot be turned on accidentally.

Stove Guard SGK510

 

Video

lnnohome Stove Alarm

Innohome stove alarm

The Stove Alarm is a more affordable solution than the Stove Guard that will improve the kitchen’s fire safety significantly.  The Intelligent Heat Sensor, attached underneath the cooker hood, signals an alarm, that alerts the user to a hazardous situation happening on the cooker before it produces toxic gases or starts a fire.  The alarm also sounds if it is removed from its location.

More information

The distributor in the UK is Safelincs Fire and safety solutions.

 

The good: The lnnohome Stove Guard prevents a fire starting in the kitchen

The not so good: Requires installation by an electrician

The verdict: Promotes living independently for people with disabilities by decreasing the risks associated with cooking.

Interesting in reading more about Assistive Technology in Old Age?

 

Next generation sensory room

SXH system

What is your vision of a sensory room?  A room with a soft mat, bean bags, bubble tubes, fibre optic lighting?  Switch everything on when someone wants to use the room?

Wouldn’t you like to see a little more thought as to how to control the room’s special lighting, music, and objects so that it can be more immersive?  How about a projection of a motorbike on the wall while you feel the vibrations in your cushion? Or a picture of an animal while you hear its name, or its sound? Or even a projection of a beach in a blue-coloured lit environment while you feel a breeze? Well, next-generation sensory rooms are here.

The SHX system developed by BJ Live allows all resources and solutions present in the room to act in coordination to create integral stimulation environments.  A single control system allows integration of all the interactive and multimedia element of the room.

The SHX system supports 2 projections as well as 4 vibroacoustic elements in the room.  There is a range of scenes provided by the SHX  control software, combinations of videos, images, noise, lighting, vibration or effects that can be customised to the user.

The good: The system allows you to control the level of stimulation and the method of interaction to adapt the space for each user.
The not so good: Needs time to set up a sensory room installation.
The verdict: With a range of scenes provided by the SHX control software, combinations of videos, images, noise, lighting, vibration or effects can be customised for any user child or adult.

Further information

Control your home security via an app

Action24 intruder alarm app
The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought about a fundamental change in the way we use technology. There are many potential benefits of the IoT for people with disabilities.
For example, someone who is blind or has a mobility-related disability can monitor and control their home heating thermostat through an accessible smartphone interface, or they can have their door automatically unlock when they approach it.
Managing intruder alarms has typically been quite inaccessible as they tend to be installed in inaccessible areas and have inaccessible touch panels. A Dublin-based company, Action24 has bucked this trend by designing an intruder alarm which can be accessed via an app installed on their Tablet or Smartphone.

Action24 HomeTouch panel intruder alarm
The main part of the intruder alarm is the HomeTouch™ panel which controls all devices. Once the panel has been installed, further devices can be included such as IP CCTV cameras, smoke detectors and wireless carbon monoxide detectors for enhanced protection of your home. Any activations will be reacted upon in Action24’s monitoring centre and the devices are viewable also on the Action24 app.

Man approaching house
It is also possible to integrate the control of your lights or other electrical devices from your Action24 App. You can pair a Z-wave plug with the panel and you will be able to control the lamp or other electronic device connected to the Z-wave plug. The connected devices will then appear on your App and are controllable at all times, whether you are at home or away. A very useful option when you’re on holidays!

table lamp switched on

How much does it cost?

€500 for the panel, €200 for the smoke detector and wireless carbon monoxide detector, €100 for IP camera, €35/month for monitoring.

 How do you control alarm and home devices?

Active24 have partnered with alarm.com to bring together home security and automation app for your home.   Their App is available for iPhoneiPad, Apple Watch and any Android device.

What is monitoring?

Monitoring is done by trained operators in a 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre.  Nominated keyholders/emergency services will receive a call from operators when activations occur. The monitoring fee is a requirement for this company.

 

The good: It’s an intruder alarm that’s accessible.

The not so good: A bit expensive if you are looking for the full array of additional features and extras.

The verdict: A good option for anyone who wants security and smart home control from the one app.

Alternatives: Considering the relatively high cost of this system and the monthly cost of monitoring it may be beyond the budget for some users.  Monitoring will definitely enhance the security of your home or premises, however, there are other alternatives that avoid the monitoring fees.

An alternative without a monitoring fee is to use a Z-Wave controller such as the VeraPlus advanced home controller for €190.  You can have similar Z-Wave window €50 and motion €60 sensors and cameras, carbon monoxide (CO) €85 and smoke detectors €70 which can be configured when activated to sound a siren or send a customized Text message to three mobile numbers using a SMS Controlled Switch €145.  You also have the options to control heating systems and lighting.  The full control of the alarm and smart home devices in a similar way as the Activate24 is available via an app.

Controlling your home appliances with you voice

You know a particular technology is fast approaching mainstream when every manufacturer seems to be developing add-ons to make their products work with it.

From Samsung’s SmartThings to August Smart Home Locks, 3rd-party developed skills are voice experiences that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo). For example “Alexa, set the Living Room lights to warm white” or “Alexa, lock the front door.” These skills are available for free download. Skills are continuously being added to increase the capabilities available to the user.smart controlled lock on a door

smart controlled lighting in a living room

he Amazon Echo is a smart speaker developed by Amazon. It is tall cylinder speaker with a built-in microphone. The device connects to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which answers to the name “Alexa”. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information
However, it can also control many smart devices using itself as a home automation hub.
The videos below give an example of using your voice with smart home products.
https://youtu.be/V7WfxI3ecVI
https://youtu.be/pH8fg1noIj0

The good: As far as price goes, the Amazon Echo comes in various forms, the
Amazon Echo Dot costs £44.99 which seems affordable. All the Amazon skills that add to the capabilities of any Alexa-enabled device are free.

The not so good: Requires internet connection to work. If your internet goes down then your ability to control the devices around you also does too.

The verdict: A good way to dip your toe in the Internet of Things waters, more capabilities on the way.