Improving voice interface without any programming changes

The goal of our team here at 1Home is on the one hand to bring voice control to users that do not have specific technical knowledge and on the other hand to simplify setup and maintenance for professional installers.

In order to achieve this we try to automatically detect and name your devices without any additional configuration of the smart home server. Combining this goal with the aim to also make the smart home as intuitive as possible is sometimes challenging. Up until now, some tweaking of smart home servers was required to really get the best out of your voice interface.

This week we added additional functionality that allows users to completely set up their voice controls as they see fit without any changes on the smart home server.

Blinds/Shades

Amazon has finally added support for Open and Close commands and we were very quick to jump on this. Users are now able to control their blinds with a more natural command: “Alexa, open garage doors”. 1Home also supports a way to invert open/close commands to make this control even more natural.

Push Buttons

Alexa also does not support the concept of push buttons and voice commands like “Alexa, push … “ or “Alexa, toggle ...” are not available. When using a push button, the user visually checks the current status of a device (e.g. TV is OFF or light is ON) and expects that with the press of a button the state will be toggled. Because there is no way to check the state of a push button via Echo, it is also impossible to convert these actions into Alexa’s ON and OFF commands properly.

We solved this issue by allowing users to send a push button toggle on both ON and OFF command while visually checking the state of the device.

For example, the user can simply switch a turned off TV by saying “Alexa, turn TV on”. Similarly, by saying “Alexa, turn the light off,” a turned-on light will be turned off. Of course, using these commands in this manner will not work remotely since you are not able to see the state of the device but it does make the voice commands more natural.

Scenes

Alexa normally supported ON commands for Scenes. But sometimes scenes are also used to turn things off. Using an ON command might sound strange when an OFF scene is used, e.g. ”Alexa, turn lights off ON”.

For this reason, we now allow users to toggle on/off commands for scenes. An off scene can now be configured to take an off command. Renaming the scene results in a more natural: “Alexa, turn lights OFF”.

Virtual switch

Many smart home configurations use scenes to start a house mode or switch to a certain mood. In many cases you find scenes named “Lights off” or “Cinema on”. It is quickly apparent that such naming is not the most intuitive when controlling with voice. “Alexa, turn cinema on on” sounds very clumsy.

Until now we have always suggested that our users create a virtual switch on the smart home server – a switch that will trigger an ON scene when turned on and an OFF scene when turned off.

From now on, the users can do the same via 1Home Dashboard without any changes on the smart home server. Clicking on an “Add a virtual device” button at the Devices tab allows users to create a virtual switch. Users can define the actions executed on both ON and OFF commands.

For our users, we even create a virtual switch automatically for every Loxone Light controller device. ON triggers the ‘all on’ light scene while OFF starts the ‘all off’ light scene.

Virtual scene

Scenes in a premium smart home can be implemented on multiple levels. They can be programmed on the bus level, on the smart home server or on the cloud. Our suggestion is that you implement scenes on the lowest possible level. This makes the scene the most performant. We are, however, aware that the lower you go, the harder it is to setup and maintain these scenes. We noticed some of our users even use Alexa grouping to create scenes in the cloud like “Alexa, turn the kitchen off” to turn every device in the kitchen group off because they are easy to set up.

Because Amazon Alexa triggers a command for each device in the group separately, we need to create a brand-new network connection for every device; this can unfortunately create some issues for less performant smart home server hardware, like for instance Loxone Miniserver. The first couple commands do get through, but some might fail because the server cannot handle so many connections at once.

Due to this issue, we have now enabled our users to create virtual scenes on 1Home. When the 1Home virtual scene is invoked, only a single network connection is established, thus putting less stress on your home server.

Get touch with us on info@1home.io