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Amazon Alexa: Controlling Blinds with Echo and Dot

05
Nov
This article was updated 5th November 2017

There has been an explosion of low cost home automation technology recently, as big and smaller players and new entrants hussle for position in what seems certain to be a serious growth market over the next few years. With all of these new brands and protocols now available, we are often asked if our electric blinds are compatible with the latest tech.

Today, I took a live chat enquiry from a customer who is interested in controlling their blinds with Amazon Echo. As a titan of the ecommerce and technology world - you can't help but take Amazon seriously with this venture into home control, and artificial inteligence. It's a voice activated speaker-come-home-control hub which not only plays music from your favourite music apps, but integrates and controls other devices and services from the "Internet of Things" - Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, Nest, tado°, Uber to name a few.

Amazon Alexa is based on a voice recognition technology called Amazon Alexa which is also embedded in other Amazon products such as Amazon Dot.

Your wish is its command.. you just have to overcome a slight sense of self consciousness and ask!

So the burning question... Can we add automated blinds from Newblinds to that list of compatable devices? Can we ask Amazon Alexa to close the blinds?

In terms of controlling blinds directly from Amazon Echo - There is currently not a blind motor which can be paired directly with Amazon Alexa devices.

Luckily, there are starting to emerge a number of low cost home automation solutions that can be connected to Alexa. These home automation systems act as a "bridge" between your blinds and Alexa. Depending on which "bridge" system you choose, the connection with Alexa ranges from being "out of the box" to more convoluted "work arounds" which are extremely effective but require a bit of patience.

So, it's a case of connecting your Alexa device (such as Dot or Echo) with an of Home Automation technology and then using that technology as a bridge to control the blinds. So that, in simple terms, you can say..

"Alexa.. Bedroom Blinds On"  ... like this....


 
..and Echo will send a command to this "other technology" which will in turn control your blinds.

The solutions that we have discovered are:
  1. Somfy Radio (RTS) Operated Blinds + Somfy Tahoma
  2. 230vAC Relay Operated Blinds + Lightwave RF Relay + Lightwave Link
  3. Louvolite OneTouch Battery Powered Blinds + Broadlink RMPRO
  4. Somfy Radio (RTS) + Z-Wave Vera Edge + RFXtrx433E:
  5. 230v Relay Operated Blinds + Fibaro + Fibaro Home Centre
  6. Samsung Smart things

I'll give an overiew of how this might work below below and some resources for those of you who would like to dig further:

Somfy Radio (RTS) + Somfy TaHoma: Actually, I may be jumping the gun on this by a few weeks (as at 5th Nov 2017), but Somfy are promising a new firmware upgrade for their smart home system, TaHoMa in the next few weeks. This will allow a direct connection with Amazon Alexa. Existing users of the Tahoma system will receive this upgrade automatically, as well as new users. I'm told that this means that any device controllable via TaHoMa will be controllable via Alexa with a simple "out of the box" set up routine. So, we're talking about being able to voice control any of the Radio operated blinds in the Electric Blinds department of our online shop, along with curtain rails, gate and garage doors, Phillips Hue and much more. In addition to Somfy Blinds, you can also buy Somfy TaHoMa directly from us for only £249. A benefit of using Tahoma to integrate with Alexa is that you can use any method of powering the blinds that are available with Somfy motors - disposable batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar powered battery, 24vDC and 230vAC. If you go for battery power, it's a completely wireless solution which is great for retro-fitting. Somfy Tahoma, simply plugs into your router and requires a 3-pin power plug. Somfy TaHoMa sends commands received from Alexa using Radio signals to the blinds. In addition to Alexa integration, TaHoMa also enables control of devices via a web or mobile app interface, creation of scheduled events and also "What if" scenarios.

230vAC Relay Operated Blinds + Lightwave RF Relay + Lightwave Link: Another out of the box solution uses the Lightwave RF Link as the "bridge" device, plus a Lightwave RF Relay for each of 230vAC Relay Operated Blinds that you purchase. This solution is great if you are automating part or all of your home with other Lightwave compatible devices and you have the facility to install 230vAC power supplies for your blinds and any necessary power cabling - good at refurb stage but not really a retrofit solution. The Lightwave RF Link (£89.99) is a low cost home automation hub for your home. It enables automation of many devices in the home and control from a central app or web interface. The Lightwave link itself has the direct connection with Amazon Alexa. Any commands sent from Alexa to the Lightwave Link are then wirelessly to the Lightwave RF relay to control your blinds. Each blind you buy will need a Light Wave RF Relay (£29.99), which is compensated for by the fact that 230v Relay Operated blinds (by virtue of them not having an in-built radio receiver) are lower cost.

Louvolite OneTouch Battery Powered Blinds + Broadlink RMPRO: This one is quite a long set up and is certainly more difficult than the Somfy Tahoma and Lightwave solutions described above. However, as all of the parts required (including the blinds) are relatively low cost, this is a good budget solution. It's also great for those who are are already using Broadlink in your home or if you already have Louvolite One Touch Battery Powered Blinds. Because Louvolite OneTouch motor is battery powered and radio operated, this is a wireless solution - so it's great for retrofit situations.  In addition to your blinds and Amazon Alexa device, you'll need also a Broadlink RMPRO universal remote (£29.99), a spare Amazon Android Device (like a phone or tablet) and the RM Tasker Plug-in. Here is an excellent tutorial video which takes you through the process of setting up a device for control by Alexa. Although it doesn't specially focus on blinds, the steps that you will need to follow are the same. Those of you who like to experiment with technology will no doubt get a kick from setting this up.

Somfy Radio (RTS) + Z-Wave Vera Edge + RFXtrx433E:  This bundle of z-wave equipment is available from Vesternet and can be used to control radio (RTS) operated blinds from our electric blinds collection - such as battery powered roller blinds, 230vAC powered roller blinds and vertical blinds. Vera is a home automation hub in its own right and you can use a web interface or app to control your blinds and other devices. It seems that Vera have an "official" integration with Echo. As of today though (16/02/2017), it is still in Beta. There is a forum post about it here. 


230vAC Relay Operated Blinds + Fibaro: Another home technology that we come accross frequently is Fibaro. They have a relay unit which is compatible with our 230v Relay Operated Roller Blinds, which is in turn controlled wirelessly from a central hub called the Home Centre. Again, Fibaro can control all manner of devices, not just blinds and is app enabled. The road to integration with Echo is a little less well travelled, at least by less technical people like myself. There is no official integration but it is possible if you are willing and able to get hands-on with the technology. You can read here a forum post on this topic. 

Samsung Smart Things: Unfortunately, this is one for our US readers only, at least for the time being. Somfy have motor out in the states which is native z-wave, which obviously simplifies things massively. This z-wave motor is controlled directly by Smart Things and the Smart Things hub takes commands from Amazon Echo, as demonstrated in the video below - pretty neat, eh?



Ok, so that's my updated explanation of blind control using Amazon Alexa .This is a constantly evolving technology ecosystem and those who read the original article will testify that quite a lot has changed in the last 6 months! Things are definitely likely to continue to change over the next year or so, as new and dominant home control technologies emerge and shading motor manufacturers find ways to more easily integrate their products natively.

I'd be pleased to learn about any other ideas that you all have. Just drop me a line on Tim.Pendleton@newblinds.co.uk if you have any further suggestions or need assistance with integrating our shading (which you can buy online, by the way) with any home or building control Technology - it's what we do best!



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