Extended Alexa Magic
Ever want to make something work, and dig into it deeper than anybody else? And then, you find the secret, the thing that other people struggled with. Now you have it, are you going to keep it for yourself, or share the knowledge that you worked so hard for.
Am I talking about the book I’m writing, or some new tricks I learned for Alexa? Maybe both. Today, I’ll share more of what I learned about my Alexa system, including, that hard-won bit one mastery. If you don’t have an Alexa, don’t sweat it. Maybe this will be informative when your friends are talking home automation, and you can know something they don’t.
When We Last Met
Until my last upgrade cycle, I had the following equipment:
Echo Dots and Echoes (gen1)
GE Z-Wave plus switches and outlet adapters
ADT Pulse w’ built-in Z-Wave hub
KwikSet smart lock
Nest Thermostat E
This let me turn on a light in any room by name by saying, “Alexa, Ask ADT to turn on the bedroom light.” This was a mouthful, especially when you are moving through the house with groceries in the dark and can’t remember what room you’re in. The quest for smarter commands was on
The answer to my problem was Samsung’s SmartThings hub. I like my ADT security system. I like my neighbor who sold it to me. I don’t like what ADT sold me when a few months later, they created a better bundle with SmartThings. The SmartThings is everything the ADT hub is not. It has much more customizability, including a marketplace for add-on features. It also exposes its devices to Amazon directly, so I can get shorter commands.
ADT Pulse + SmartThings
If you have the basic ADT Pulse hub like I did, I strongly recommend spending the $80 and getting SmartThings. Then you can join it to your Z-Wave mesh. Sorry folks, this next bit is technical. I waded through swamps to get this.
Setup all your existing z-wave switched in the ADT hub (probably already done)
Put your ADT into “finding more devices mode”
On your SmartThings app, enter Add Device mode
ADT will eventually say it didn’t find anything
SmartThings might say it got a NodeID (it did, meaning it joined ADT’s Mesh as a secondary hub)
Now click SmartThing’s add a device button in the app, so it will discover all the existing z-wave devices
If you add more hardware later, like I did, I let ADT auto-find them, but ST wouldn’t pick them up so I used the ST web-site to manually add them. The ADT node addresses are in decimal, ST uses Hex.
You should see a stack of unnamed devices in ST now.
Walk around your house turning on switches and renaming them as you figure out what is what (the names of things are not recorded on the switched themselves)
Open you Amazon Alexa App and goto SmartHome -> Devices.
Click the Discover button, and soon Alexa will know you have stuff
At this point, you now have the power to say “Alexa, turn on the bedroom light.” Isn’t that awesome. No more asking somebody to ask something to do something for you. But wait, that wasn’t what I wanted to show you. The real magic is about to being.
And Then There Was Light
The ultimate goal is to walk into any room and say “Alexa, turn on the light” and have only that light turn on because Alexa knew you were there. This is the secret that isn’t hard to setup but is was hard to find. People argued online about whether it was even possible.
Again, this will be a bit technical, but less so than the prior step for ADT users. I will assume that for your hardware, you have all your lights and such visible under SmartHome->Devices in the Amazon Alexa App. I will also assume you named all your Echo devices after the room they are in like I did.
In the Amazon Moble App (NEVER use the web version for Group management, you’ll undo this step):
Go to SmartHome -> Groups
Add a new Group
Select the Echo named after the room you are doing
Select the Switch device for the light in this room
Name the group and save it
Lather, Rinse, Repeat for each room you plan to do
That’s it. Now you can want into a room, and the Echo that hears you will turn on the light in that room when you say “Alexa, turn on the light.” Turning off the light works the same way, in case that needed saying.
I’ll save my long list of “things they should make better’ for a future article. Right now, I want you to see a trick your Alexa can do. Getting short, natural phrases to work is key to making voice assistants be helpful. Anytime I have to pause to think of the phrase to say, I might as well shuffle over and bump the switch with my elbow.