We live in an age where we are beginning to see the future tech of Star Trek come true. A German company called Thyssenkrupp has developed an elevator that travels on an electromagnetic track and moves both vertically and horizontally (the turbolift). We use smart phones and tablets every day to connect us to each other and an internet full of information no matter where we go (the tricorder). While we may still lament the lack of progress towards the transporters or replicators, we do finally have the ability to speak to our computers. Though many of us are still uncomfortable talking to or carrying on conversations with our devices, digital voice assistants like Google, Cortana, or Siri are here to stay.
One of the earliest and most popular of these is the Amazon version, Alexa. Alexa was first incorporated into a device marketed by Amazon as a “smart” speaker… the Amazon Echo. Now Alexa lives in a variety of devices including the Echo family (the Echo, the Echo Spot, and the Echo Dot). It can even live in your PCs, phones, and tablets through the use of apps.
In March of 2016 Amazon unveiled the Echo Dot, a smaller and more affordable version of it’s Echo smart speaker. Now in it’s 3rd generation the Dot offers a compact and affordable digital voice assistant. Marketed as a portable but powerful Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled speaker, the Dot’s real power lies in its use of Alexa to perform a multitude of tasks. Let’s explore some of the many useful functions that can be performed by Alexa and the Echo Dot.
Music… After all, it IS a smart speaker. Once your Dot is associated to a music service (a Spotify or Apple Music account for instance) then playing your favorite song or playlist is as simple as asking. “Alexa, play Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffet”.
Weather… Getting a current weather forecast, “Alexa, what is todays forecast” or “Alexa, will it rain today”.
Timers… “Alexa, set an egg timer for 4 minutes”. Unlike my standard go-to, Siri, Alexa can even set multiple timers at one time.
Alarms and Reminders… It is so easy to use Alexa for alarms and reminders. “Alexa, remind me at noon to take my medication”
Phone Numbers or Store Hours… Alexa can look up a business or restaurant and tell you if they are open, when they will open, or when they will close. She will also give you a phone number and, if she is associated with your phone, give you the option of calling right from your Dot.
Control Other Devices or Appliances In Your Home… Using Wi-Fi enabled switches, plugs, bulbs, or thermostats Alexa can control lights, fans, small appliances, HVAC, and even door locks.
Get Answers to Burning Questions… For when you just HAVE to know George Clooney’s birthday, how old Donald Trump is, or whether your favorite sports team won today.
Yeah, I could do this all day. Those were just the simple things. The real versatility of Alexa comes from skills and routines.
Skills are apps written for Alexa and downloadable from amazon. When enabled a skill allows Alexa to do things such as read your top news stories each day, play games, or play nature sounds while you sleep. Routines are customized programs written by the user. It can be used to prompt a specific response or set of instructions. “Alexa, good night” might be a prompt for her to turn your lights off and start playing your favorite bedtime playlist. These tools put an arsenal of powerful commands at your disposal.
With her connections to the internet and your home devices, Alexa can convert your living room into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise… “Alexa, beam me up”