You’ve probably heard a lot about Alexa in recent months but maybe you’re unsure as to why the name should mean anything when it comes down to the smart home environment and the future of connected device control.
Luckily we’ve got your back and have prepared the perfect introduction with everything you need to know about Amazon’s latest smart assistant.
What is Alexa – or should that be who is Alexa?
Alexa is the name given to the voiced intelligence of Amazon’s latest series of smart devices.
Supposedly named after the ancient library of Alexandria, Alexa is Amazon’s voice control system that forms the foundation of the Amazon Echo, alongside it’s smaller siblings the Tap and the Echo Dot.
This voice control functionality means that when you speak, Alexa listens and that’s when things get interesting.
From providing you with information to carrying out certain tasks like dimming the lights, turning on your coffee maker or playing your favorite music, Alexa is listening and waits on your next voice instruction.
Alexa enabled devices are effectively all-in-one streaming audio players, online assistants and smart-home hubs rolled into one increasingly intelligent solution for the connected home ecosystem.
When it comes to the present and future of truly smart home control, the potential of Alexa in devices such as the Echo represents quite possibly the biggest development in controlling your connected home devices using just your voice.
Alexa in action
The Amazon Echo uses a set of what are called far-field microphones meaning that Alexa is able to hear your questions, instructions, and remarks from pretty much anywhere in the room.
In the case of the Echo, you don’t even need to physically interact with the device itself, simply speaking the trigger words “Alexa”, “Amazon” or “Echo” enables the system and sets Alexa into listening mode.
From there, just say what you want to happen and Alexa will do her best to oblige.
Unlike Apple’s Siri system, using Amazon’s Alexa feels much more natural when speaking commands or asking questions, and while there are still a few instances where commands need to be refined, the evolution of the system is progressing with leaps and bounds making it more naturally responsive by the day.
How Alexa works
As mentioned earlier, in the case of the Echo and the Dot, the ‘ears’ of Alexa come in the form or a relay of seven super-sensitive microphones always on the listen for the next instruction. Because of this, Alexa is always listening for your next request and the natural language system Amazon have adopted for Alexa make it incredibly easy to interact with.
When Alexa hears the ‘wake word’, the system begins listening before uploading your request to the Amazon cloud for processing.
Imagine you are asking for the traffic situation in London or San Francisco, Alexa will find out what you need and relay the details back to you via her digital voice.
Similarly, asking for a particular music track will result in Alexa trawling the database of Amazon’s music catalog to retrieve the sound you’re looking for before playing it back through the device’s speakers.
The Echo is also able to connect to other audio streaming services including TuneIn radio, Spotify and Pandora.
For the smart home owner, the magic of Alexa comes in the form of the ability to control connected devices such as smart lighting, thermostats, door locks and even coffee machines once programmed into the system.
It’s in the potential for revolutionary control of the smart home environment that Amazon is really beginning to break new ground with Alexa and her native devices.
While controlling your lights and the heating in your home using an app on your smartphone is awesome, being able to do it using just your voice takes intelligent device control to a new level and it’s here that Echo and Alexa are changing the game.
The Echo currently works alongside a list of smart device that Alexa is able to directly integrate with including some of the biggest names in the smart home market such as Nest, Philips Hue and WeMo.
While these devices offer direct connection capability with Amazon’s Alexa enabled devices, they can be supplemented by third-party applications like IFTTT (If This, Then That) with Amazon also offering an API for other integration partners meaning the list of ‘works with Alexa’ options set to skyrocket in the coming years.
Another area in which Alexa excels is the feature for allowing voice-controlled shopping – a natural area for Amazon to focus heavily on in the development of the system.
While shopping is currently restricted to Amazon Prime members, the premise is a simple one: Simply ask Alexa to order an item, the system will search for it before telling you the price and asking for a confirmation code to approve the purchase. At this point, the purchase is paid for through your connected payment method and your item is on its way – all without lifting a finger, clicking a mouse or opening a wallet.Learn more about Amazon Alexa enabled devices here