Home Automation Comes Into Its Own

by Paul Mimms

Blinded veterans can most certainly benefit from the use of an emerging category of systems that use voice commands to control one’s home. The control is accomplished by wireless switches and plug receptacles that interface with well-known systems such as Alexa with Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, Google Now with Google Home, and Siri with the Apple Home Kit with which one can use an iPhone and/or iPad for voice input portals.

By voice command I can turn lights off and on. I can also dim and brighten lights throughout the house from wherever I happen to be located within it. I can control lamps and plug-in appliances and even my coffee pot by voice. Imagine waking up and giving the command “turn on coffee pot.”

To take it a bit further, these systems allow me to control not just lights but also door locks, a garage door, a thermostat, ceiling fans, and other appliances in the home. Think of being able to close your drapes in the evening by voice command.

Such control can be an effective component of a home security system. The potential exists to use my voice to activate and disarm my alarm system, as well as to lock and unlock entry and garage doors.

At the center of the system is a hub that routes the commands to the correct device. All of the component hardware is connected wirelessly among the parts via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other wireless technology.

I have such a system in my home, and I use the Amazon Echo as my voice input portal. To expand my voice input coverage beyond a central point and room, I use Echo Dot. The Echo devices all work together without interference. Another option is to expand command input capability using remotes available to sync with any of the Echo family of devices.

My system started out with control of the front door lock, a couple of lights, activation of the alarm system, and control of the garage door. I have added control of additional lights indoors, as well as outdoor lighting control and control of motorized drapes and shades. I can turn on my entertainment system, including my television. I can also change TV channels and switch to Apple TV—all using voice.

Another feature of these systems is the capability of creating what are called scenes. For instance, my Good Night scene turns off all lights, the television, and the ceiling fan. It also goes through the sequences involved in locking the front door, the garage door, and setting the alarm. I have set up other scenes to cover additional events.

I set up my system in stages, adding as I desired more features. Systems can vary, of course, depending on the range and scope of control desired, the number of control switches and outlets used, and the addition of wireless door lock systems which are becoming more numerous and less expensive.

Although Blind Rehabilitation Centers are issuing iPhones, iPads, and Echo Dots to veterans, they are not issuing home automation accessories. Nor are such systems available through the VA Special Adaptive Housing Grant. As electronics improve and expand their capabilities, well-written justifications may be accepted in the future. To find out more about devices or systems for home control, search on amazon.com, google.com, and apple.com to compare the features of the options. As a starting point, accessories from other vendors are available at Home Depot and Best Buy.

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