Alexa, turn on room light.

“Alexa, turn on the room light!” Every night before going to bed, I always asked Alexa to turn on my room lights. Although sometimes it couldn’t connect to the device, which is frustrating, most of the time, it works perfectly as expected. Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant are the three smart assistants that dominate the current smart home market. So how do they work? All of them rely on NLP, natural language processing, to understand human languages. Since analyzing the words take a lot of computational power, these smart assitants first record the words and then send the words to cloud servers to be analyzed more efficiently. On the cloud side, the NLP breaks down the words into individual sounds and then consults a database training various words’ pronunciation to find which words most closely correspond to the combination of individual sounds. Next, NLP identifies important words to make sense of the tasks and carry out corresponding functions. Lastly, it sends back the information to the devices.

At home, the three devices, Amazon Echo, Home pod, and Google Speaker, play the role of the central brain controlling all smart home devices through different types of wireless channels. We called them smart home hubs. Smart home hubs enabled the possibility of automation and linkage between different smart devices from different brands. However, some devices only support one smart assistant, which makes integration complicated. For example, if I have an Alexa at home, but I want to connect it to Nest Thermostat, the smart thermostat acquired by google and only supports google assistant, it’s almost impossible to do so. Thus, we need a new tool to solve this problem.

Here it is, IFTTT, which is short for If This Then That. IFTTT is the simplest way to connect hundreds of apps and devices, including Twitter, Dropbox, Alexa, and Google Assistant. IFTTT introduced the concept of Applets, which is like mini, active apps customers can create to connect different devices and apps by themselves. For example, creating events in the iPhone Calendar via Google Assistant, and sync Alexa’s to-do list with Google Calendar. Automation saves us a lot of time. The way to do so first connects your accounts to IFTTT then choose the existing services in the platform and create your Applet. Then click “connect”. That’s it!

If you are not sure what to do, then you can select an existing Applet created by others. If you cannot find what you need, you can also use IFTTT’s API to build your logic and create your own smart home! Let’s say I want to connect my phone to nest smart doorbell so that “IF a delivery guy pressed the doorbell, THEN my phone would get a notification, and THEN the camera was turned on,” I can simply use IFTTT to achieve that. IFTTT empowers smart assistants and smart devices to work together in a frictionless environment. With the power of IFTTT, I can also connect my home media centers to all smart devices and provide an automatic watching experience.

Imagine that you can enable theater mode at home by just saying “Alexa, theater mode” and suddenly the lighting brightness adjusted to 30% and the warms adjusted to 2700K, then the drapery was closed automatically along with the opening of the 7.1 Dolby speakers and 4K movies. This can be made possible with Plex and smart assistants. Plex is a client-server media player platform, made by Plex, Inc.

The Plex Media server organizes video, audio, and photos from a user’s collections and from online services and streams them to the players. The official clients and unofficial third-party clients run on mobile devices, smart TVs, streaming boxes, and web apps. Unlike Netflix, all the content is stored in the NAS –Network Attached Storage, and fetched by Plex servers. With IFTTT, we can easily connect Plex to smart assistants and other smart devices to set up the theater scene. Plex can store not only movies but also private videos, pictures functioning as a home cloud service. With premium membership, you can also stream your content from your home media center to your mobile phones through the internet so that you will never store your document/pictures/asset on cloud drives such as google drive and dropbox.

9 comments

  1. conoreiremba · ·

    Awesome post Lewis! I personally have been very slow on the uptake with regard to all things Alexa and smart home devices so I very much appreciate your deep dive into this topic. Also, when your 84-year-old grandmother is the one telling you that you should be getting an Alexa device, you know it’s time to start thinking about getting one.
    The reason I have been so slow to join the party is that I have just not been convinced that a smart home device would reduce much of the friction in my life and I had initially thought of them as more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must-have”. Also, I have always lived with family or housemates and couldn’t help but feel that an Alexa would only create more problems with everyone wanting different things. But I can see how IFTTT would reduce so many of the pain points that we all have around our homes
    This post certainly gives me the push I need to take that “trust” leap that we spoke about in class because I have clearly been underestimating the possibilities of smart assistants so it’s time to make my life “crazy good” as your video points out. Excellent insight and I loved the idea of theater mode, that’s one thing I can definitely get on board with!

  2. therealerindee · ·

    Whoa Lewis! You blew my mind with the fact that Alexa sends of the audio clip to the cloud to analyze and then receives the results. I had absolutely no idea and definitely thought Alexa was a tiny computer doing all its own processing. In my opinion the smart home setup has to be a full dive into the deep end, kind of like the trust leap Conor mentioned. If Alexa or Siri is going to be listening to me all the time, I want it to be connected to absolutely every device possible to get the most out of the smart home experience. Thankfully you talked about IFTT and the Applets that can help get me to that all encompassing smart home, so maybe I will look into going all in on the smart home experience.

  3. Nice post. Back when we could still travel, I would be in some hotel room on a trip and still be asking Alexa to do things for me. It’s easy to get used to having here around!

  4. I think this IFFT is an amazing platform. I had used it a ton in the past for small stuff like adding SoundCloud songs to an excel spreadsheet or adding tasks from Google to Outlook calendar. What I didn’t know from this article was that I thought was good to understand was knowing how to connect devices. I would love to see how IFFT can integrate into more smart devices like automotive to adjust your car temperature in case the weather drops.

  5. olivia_levy8 · ·

    Great post! I have a Google Home in my house but have since unplugged it at the fear of it listening to my every word. I am surprised that when I was relying on my home and saying “Hey Google”, so often I didn’t think to try and connect it to anything outside of its realm. I think that the IFFT is brilliant and solves a common issue. The need for a platform like such is definitely there. Now, I just need to plug my Google Home back in and set up my Plex platform to turn my living room into a home theatre. Awesome post, thanks for sharing.

  6. Scott Siegler · ·

    Really cool post! I love the idea of this automation and it is making my mind spin with all kinds of ideas. I’ve been very slow to adopt voice assistant technology into my life, but I can see IFTTT being the thing that ultimately convinces me to adopt.

  7. Jie Zhao · ·

    Awesome post, Lewis! I personally joined the Google ecosystem with Google Home and Chromecast, which I love using every single day. I have run into problems where I can’t stream Amazon Prime videos to my Chromecast, but I think IFTTT may just be the solution. I recently watched a video (link below) about how data can be collected and used for target ads, but there are options to op-out/clear data – which I’m not sure how much I trust.

  8. lisahersh · ·

    Great post, Lewis!!!! This is SO cool, but I still find Alexa’s listening to me all the time a little creepy (which is why I have yet to take that plunge). This really reminded me of a movie I watched on the Disney Channel when I was a kid called “Smart House” which led me to this article that mentions a lot of what you discuss here: https://www.theringer.com/movies/2019/6/19/18686827/smart-house-disney-artificial-intelligence-katey-sagal

  9. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    What a nice and informative post!! I really like the idea of integrating all your apps and thing via a central control. I am definitely going to look into it this summer! Thank you so much for sharing!

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