Smart Home Technology for SCI – by Sonny Ali

More and more people are becoming familiar with the Amazon Echo (aka Alexa). Alexa is a voice controlled virtual assistant that can perform numerous tasks from answering simple questions to controlling in-home smart devices. For SCI individuals, using voice commands to perform these functions can be a real blessing.

I’ve been using Alexa for over a year now, and I’m truly grateful for this technology. For me, the ability to turn lights on and off, without having to transfer onto my wheelchair from my bed or sofa first, has saved me an incredible amount of time and frustration. When I first heard the Echo had the ability to integrate with various other technologies to turn a regular home into a ‘smart home’, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Echo (or Echo Dot, pictured on the left), is a Bluetooth speaker you can connect to with your phone or tablet. Once you connect the Echo to your home wireless network, you can ask Alexa for the latest news flash, local weather (or the weather in the Fiji Islands, Vancouver BC, or anywhere else in the world). You can even ask her about your commute time, the score of the Lakers game, or to order Domino’s Pizza. If you’re bored, you can ask Alexa to tell you a joke, or you can kill time by playing Jeopardy. My kids use Alexa for help with their homework…”Alexa, what’s 12 times 12?” As a family, we found Alexa to be extremely helpful and fun to use. My wife uses Alexa to set the timer when she’s cooking. I use Alexa to keep track of the grocery shopping list…”Alexa, add jalapenos to my shopping list.” I can go on and on about how useful Alexa is, but where she really shines is in the various integrations with other ‘smart home’ technologies.

My smart home consists of the following:

  • Amazon Echo in my master bedroom, and an Echo Dot in my kitchen.
  • Harmony Hub with Universal Remote Control in the family room.
  • Philips Hue Hub and Lights throughout the house.
  • Samsung Smartthings Hub and Power Outlets in the kitchen and bedroom.
  • Nest Thermostat – upstairs and downstairs.

Before going to bed at night, I set up my coffee percolator with freshly ground coffee beans, and I plug the percolator into my smart outlet on the kitchen counter. When I wake up in the morning, I tell Alexa, “Alexa, start coffee”, and the switch turns on and begins making my coffee. Within minutes, my coffee is ready.

My bedroom has two Philips Hue bulbs – one in a lamp, and another in a recessed light in the hallway. With a simple voice command, I tell Alexa, “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights.” At night, when I’m ready to go to sleep, I tell Alexa to turn off the lights.

In the family room, I tell Alexa to turn on the TV — which is very helpful when I can’t find the remote. I can even tell her to turn off the TV when it’s bedtime for my children. I can be laying down in my bedroom, but issue a command to turn off the TV in the family room, and Alexa flawlessly works her magic!

Many SCI individuals struggle with regulating body heat. Before I set up my Nest Thermostats (integrated with Alexa), I’d have to wait for a family member to turn up the heat for me. Now I simply say, “Alexa, turn the heater to 70 degress”, and she does the rest.

The smart home possibilities are almost endless, thanks to Amazon’s Echo! If you have an SCI and want to turn your home into a smart home, contact us to find out how you can get an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot!

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