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Are We Ready for Connected Cars?

2016 was the year when “smart” homes went mainstream.

We got used to living in a world where any device in your house that is connected to electricity can be placed on your home network and operated by voice commands or remote control.

Your home automation operates lighting, your home entertainment systems, security, and thermostat. Everything from cell phones to washing machines, Lamps to coffee makers. It’s all been “smartified”.

Last year everyone was talking about Alexa and her 6000 new skills. In 2017, If Uber’s latest move is any indication,  it seems like it’s the “Connected car’s” turn to shine.

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Predictions: What will be the hottest trends in IoT in 2017

2016 was huge for the ‘Internet of Things’ space.

What was once an obscure futuristic vision has gone mainstream and even affordable.

In 2014, the Internet of Things was just a phenomena to look out for. Now, only two years later, it seems like it is already here and it’s revolutionizing almost every area in our lives. Read more

Smart Home: How to Create Yours On a Budget

I’ve been wanting to create my smart home for quite a while, but I found myself frustrated with pricey and complicated home automation devices. Not only did I have to spend thousands of dollars but the devices did not communicate or were compatible with each other.

I knew I wasn’t going to give up on my smart home goals and I was determined to find a solution that would make my day to day more convenient. As the geek that I am, I decided to do some research.

I found that while the automated smart home market is packed with expensive devices, there is no compatibility between the systems. For example; If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, OpenHAB is a free open source home automation platform that works well with 150 different smart home products. However, although you’ll save some money, you’ll need to have some kind of programming experience and be willing to put in some time.

If you are not into programming or installing a few-thousand dollar system, the following options I found might be a better fit for you.They are not free, but reasonably priced, and they are easy to install as automated home devices.

Smart Plugs

Smart Plugs are a great way to get started, as they control the on and off switch of any power connected device, straight from the outlet. Once set up and plugged into a power outlet, you can control the devices connected to the Smart Plug remotely through a mobile app. Other features such as scheduling, energy monitoring and thermal sensor for automatic shut-off overheated devices, make it a worthy addition at this economical price.

D-Link Wireless Smart Plug

Available for iOS and Android

Price: $69.99

NOW Promo Price: $49.99

d-link

Tp-Link Wireless Smart Plug

Available for iOS, Android and Amazon Echo

Price: $29.99

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Smart Water Saver

BOA Waterpebble

BOA Waterpebble is a cheap gadget to help you reduce your daily water consumption. By memorizing your first shower, it indicates (with light signals) when you are showering beyond your benchmark. Every time you shower, it will encourage you to reduce showering time, helping you save money and the planet.

Price: $13.99 on Amazon

Smart Hub

A Smart Hub is a priority when getting started with your Smart Home. Control various functions around the house with a single application. You can also connect between devices – for example, turn on the coffee maker when your alarm clock goes off. How awesome is that?! Here are some excellent Smart Hub solutions:

Samsung SmartThings Hub

The SmartThings Hub lets you control and monitor your home, from a simple app, by enabling to connect various smart devices into one hub. You can receive notifications from your connected doors, lights, locks, electronics, wireless speakers and it even notifies on moisture levels, home intrusion, and extreme temperatures inside the house.

The SmartThings app is free and it is available for iOS, Android, Amazon Echo and Windows Phone.

Price: $24.98

Wink Hub

This fine-looking device and app connect multiple smart devices, allowing you to control them in one app. Wink Relay works with a very impressive list of smart devices, and recently the company announced it also integrates Uber, Fitbit and IFTTT protocol – very cool. Also, if that wasn’t enough, you can use the various Wink devices as Intercoms for room-to-room communication. Nice.

Price: $99.00 for the latest version

 

Smart Assistant

Echo Dot

Leading the home personal voice assistant market (on a budget) is Echo Dot. It is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that can control your smart home, connect to applications and services, be your music player and more. The Echo Dot pack includes several devices that are placed in rooms around the house and control it as a whole.

Price: $49.99

Smart Lighting

Replace traditional bulbs by simply unscrewing the old ones and replacing them with wireless LED bulbs. It is the easiest step in the process of creating an automated smart home. You might need a main smart home hub or you might simply be able to control it directly via Bluetooth from your smartphone or tablet. Here are various options to choose from:

GE Link

You don’t need a fat wallet to get your smart lights going. GE Link light bulbs are “a bright idea for your smart home.” You connect them through a hub to the Wink app on your smartphone or tablet and control them from wherever you are. You can control them individually or in groups and schedule or sync with other smart devices. Not only are they super affordable but they consume less power and last longer than regular bulbs. The app is available in Android and iOS apps.

Price: starting at $13.33

LIFX

These smart bulbs are also a great option for your light-tech home. LIFX pioneered the first Wi-Fi enabled, multi-colored LED that’s controllable via a smart device. It works with Nest and other smart home devices like IFTTT and Google App, providing a friendly experience without needing a hub or additional systems.

Price: Starting at $22.49

WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set

This starter pack provides an instant smart lighting system with two bulbs and the WeMo Link connector for the price of one. It is now half the price, and if you want to add some more later on, WeMo Link supports up to 50 bulbs and each the starting price of each is below $20.

Price: $99.99

NOW Promo Price: $49.99

Smart Security System

One of the main advantages of creating your smart home is monitoring your home security system by adding door and window sensors. A smart door-lock that unlocks from your smartphone and virtual keys that you can give to visitors. The price range for this sector is above all others for purchasing a complete system.

Kwikset Kevo Smart Door Lock

Kwikset’s Kevo was the first smart lock on the market and it still remains as my favorite option. You can unlock it by touch or, alternatively, with a key. It works with an apple watch and it is compatible with Nest. You can also pair it with your smartphone and email Kevo keys, via the Kevo app. You can also send keys to other users and deactivate them when they no longer need them. Additionally, you can monitor when each key is used and you can set up an alert to get notified every time someone enters.

Price: $139.98

EZVIZ Mini HD Security Camera

This is a great way to monitor your home without paying crazy amounts of money. The night vision camera starts recording when it detects motion and sends alerts to your smartphone or tablet. You can monitor your home even if you are away. The 720p HP video has a 130-degree view and multiple storage options. It is easy to set up and you can voice control it using Alexa with IFTTT. It comes with a free month trial for you to check it out first.

Price: $89.99

Smart Thermostat

Honeywell

Honeywell might not look as fancy shmancy as other thermostats on the market, but it works perfectly and it is as functional as every other. You can manage heating and cooling systems at anytime through its WiFi capabilities and adjust the thermostat’s schedule. You can set the perfect indoor temperature while viewing the outdoor temperature and humidity. It also displays a five day weather forecast and allows you to view and change humidifier settings. If you register a system at home and another one at your office, you can access multiple locations and upgrade to new features. Honeywell might not be as well-known as Nest, but it is an affordable and fully functional alternative.

Price: $84.68

Honeywell

Now to you

If you combine the total cost for creating a complete, affordable smart home, you will find that the value is less than $1,000.00. Your home will adjust to your daily patterns and help you keep calm when you are halfway around the world.

These options are an investment as they will help you save energy, save water, keep your house safe, monitor your children, and get the most out of your home.

If you take a look at the big picture, it is not expensive to get smart lighting, a smart thermostat, a smart security system, and more. You can start with these devices to make your life more convenient, and later on, expand on some smart luxuries. But I will warn you about one last thing – if you are on a low budget, be careful because these wonderful gadgets can become highly addictive and you WILL want to expand on your Smart Home!

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Top 20 Alexa Skills Everyone Should Know

Are you still trying to understand how you can get the most out of Alexa?

If you are – good!

Here’s why you should make sure you’ve added the crème de la crème Alexa skills to your account.

There are three things that have truly differentiated Alexa from every other voice assistant: The availability of Alexa’s Voice Service for other manufacturers

1. The availability of Alexa’s Voice Service for other manufacturers

The Alexa Voice Service developer program allows manufacturers to build their own Alexa devices just like Samsung built a refrigerator with Alexa’s Voice Service. In the near future, we will even have cars with Alexa incorporated.

2. Other companies’ products can be compatible without changing their product

If a manufacturer wants his product to be compatible with Alexa, all he needs to do is open up its cloud portal.

3. There is an open door for third-party app developers

In the Amazon world, these third-party apps are called Skills. They are what really makes Alexa special.

The Alexa Skill Kit  makes it is easy for anyone with basic programming knowledge to develop their own skills and add them to Alexa by following Amazon’s approval guidelines. The public can add any skill to their Alexa account and immediately make it work on every Alexa device they have at home.

As the Amazon Alexa director, Rob Pulciani said:

“Today, we have a vibrant community of tens of thousands of developers who are learning about the service, bringing useful and innovative skills to every aspect of Alexa customers’ lives, and introducing their own users to the magic and simplicity of hands-free, voice-driven interactions. We’re excited about the 1,000 skills that are already available, and can’t wait to see what developers create with the next ten thousand.”

We recently joined the party and created our own skill, News Feed, that allows Alexa users to make use of our audio repository by asking Alexa “What’s the latest on <topic>?” and getting instant, live reports from top newscasters.

As Alexa is getting smarter, so should you. With over 3,000 skills, it can be overwhelming to separate the remarkable skills from the throwaway ones. We’ve created a list of the top 20 every Alexa user should know:

1. SmartThings

Smart Home

If you are aiming for a smart home and are willing to get past the pricing issues, SmartThings is the best solution for integrating with Alexa. It allows you to control lights, security systems, thermostats, switches, dimmers and outlets with your voice.

You can control individual devices like “Alexa, turn on Living Room AC” or control SmartThings groups like “Alexa, turn on Bedroom Lights”.

2. Automatic

Connected Car

Automatic is a great first step if you want to communicate with your car. Once you have an Automatic adapter, you can ask Alexa where your car is parked, how much fuel you have left or how much you drove yesterday, the past week or even last year. It “Automatic-ally” turns your car into a smart car and makes you a better driver.

3. Find My Phone

Connected Phone

If you often misplace your phone, TrackR helps you find it even if it is on silent mode.

These are the steps to set it up:

  • Enable the Find My Phone skill by Trackr from your Alexa app or by saying “Alexa, enable the Find My Phone skill” and install on your device.
  • Launch the TrackR app and select “Add a new device” and then choose “Alexa Integration” and “Start Setup”.
  • Ask “Alexa, ask TrackR for my pin”
  • Enter the pin code into the TrackR app and click Submit.

Once your skill is integrated, you can ring your phone at full volume and find it in no time.

Echo has Skills - Now voice activated

4. Capital One

Business & Finance

Ask Alexa how much money you have, make credit card payments and keep up with your loans with Capital One. It is exclusive to Capital One members but if you connect your account, Alexa can tell you your current balance, last transactions and more.

You sign up with your Capital One username and password (which are kept completely private). Then, create a personal four-digit code. You have to give your security code before it can access your information.

5. Kids MD

Health & Fitness

This skill is powered by the Boston Children’s Hospital and provides detailed information about common ailments such as colds, fevers, or nosebleeds. Kids MD gives you information on medication dosing. It is for educational and informational purposes only as it doesn’t give individual medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment, but it is by far the best educational health skill in the Alexa app store.

6. 7-Minute Workout

Health & Fitness

A 7-minute workout is a great way to release stress and start your day full of energy. This small daily effort is scientifically proven to increase metabolism, improve energy, lower stress, and best of all, remove fat! Activate The 7-Minute Workout skill to know exactly which set of exercises will benefit you. You can track and resume existing workouts with simple commands.

7. FitBit

Health & Fitness

This skill is terrific if you want to get involved in the fitness world, especially if you already integrated the 7-Minute Workout skill. With FitBit you can ask Alexa to track your progress. Ask for your weight, steps taken, exercise goals, sleep tracking and more. A simple “Alexa, ask FitBit how I am doing today” is an easy way to help you achieve a healthier daily routine.

8. Marvee

Safety

Marvee is a perfect care companion for those who have limited vision, mobility or typical aging challenges. It’s an easy way for them to communicate with family members, caregivers and loved ones. Make sure they know that you are ok while still having the independence we all need. Alexa uses the contacts you’ve specified on your linked Marvee app and sends out notifications by text, email or both with these simple commands:

“Alexa, tell Marvee I’m OK”

“Alexa, tell Marvee to check on me”

“Alexa, ask Marvee to have Alex call me”

“Alexa, ask Marvee for Family News”

9. Ask My Buddy

Safety

Ask My Buddy lets you send a text message, voice telephone call or an email alert message in case of an emergency. You can say “Alexa, ask My Buddy to alert [name of specific contact]” or “Alexa, ask My Buddy to alert everyone”.

You simply have to register the names and information for those you would like to alert in case of an emergency. It’s a great skill to feel safe even when living by yourself.

10. Domino’s Pizza

Food & Drink

Domino’s Pizza has made it possible for you to order a pizza without lifting a finger. Set up an Easy Order in your Domino’s Pizza Profile and say “Alexa, open Domino’s and place my Easy Order” and you’ll have a full belly in no time. You can also track your order status and set up a list of favorites.

Amazon tap logo - up close

11. Campbell’s Kitchen

Food & Drink

If you’re running out of ideas for your daily menu, Campbell’s Kitchen is your skill. It gives you five new recipes every day. You just have to ask Alexa to open Campbell’s Kitchen and it will provide you with recipes that match your taste and time preferences.

These are some examples of possible commands for your new smart kitchen:

“Alexa, ask Campbell’s Kitchen what’s for dinner.”

“Alexa, ask Campbell’s Kitchen for a recipe.”

“Alexa, ask Campbell’s Kitchen for today’s top five recipes.”

12. The Bartender

Food & Drink

The Bartender is ideal for making your favorite cocktails and spicing up your skills as a party host. The recipes are easy and provide accurate instructions so you won’t mess up in the middle of the process. You can ask by name or by ingredient – for example:

“Alexa, ask the bartender, what’s in a Pisco Sour?”

“Alexa, ask the bartender, for a drink with thyme.”

“Alexa, ask the bartender to surprise me.”

Remember, it’s not for all ages but it sure is ideal for an older crowd.

Same goes for our next skill on the list!

13. My Somm

Food & Drink

Wait, you never took a wine course in Tuscany?!

Never mind, you can turn Alexa into your personal wine sommelier. MySomm will give you wine recommendations depending on what you are having for dinner. Are you having meat, camembert or the usual Sunday pepperoni pizza? Doesn’t matter, MySomm has a wine recommendation for every meal. So, if you’re a wine lover, Wine not? Just ask Alexa to ask “Wine Gal” and you’ll have the perfect wine matching your plate.

14. Earplay

Gaming & Entertainment

Earplay features interactive audio stories where you can become a part of the story with your voice. It features sound effects, acting drama, and interaction with the story’s characters which changes how the story unveils.  With the command “Alexa, start Earplay”, you’re able to begin your life as a secret agent. Keep in mind it requires parental guidance as not all stories are suitable for all ages.

15. Abra

Gaming & Entertainment

The old Akinator game is available on Alexa and it is the Abra skill. Choose a character, real or fictional and say “Alexa, start Akinator”. Alexa will ask you a set of questions you need to answer and you will be surprised how Alexa will almost always guess the character you are thinking of. The most intriguing part comes up with more challenging guesses.

16. The Wayne Investigation

Gaming & Entertainment

You can choose your own adventure in this Batman-themed mystery game by playing a detective that investigates the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Alexa guides you to navigate around the streets of Gotham and get to the bottom of the crime. Keep in mind parental guidance is suggested as the content might not be suitable for all ages.

17. Lyft

Travel & Transportation

Enable Lyft to request a car  and avoid the public transportation chaos. Your car will arrive in a few minutes and the fare will be automatically debited from your account. This skill tells you where your ride is, the fare for a specific commute and allows you to rate your driver. All you have to say is “Alexa, ask Lyft to request a ride”.

18. Kayak

Travel & Transportation

If you are the adventurous type, you can easily do research for a future trip using the Kayak skill. Say “Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $350” and get multiple destinations to see how far you can travel with your budget. You can also ask the price for a specific destination and get multiple options and price ranges. In addition, this hands-free trip planning skill gives you real-time flight status updates so you won’t be late to pick up your guests at the airport.

19. StubHub

Social

Discover the best local events going on this weekend just by asking Alexa. You can also find out what’s happening in another city and if it’s worth it, you can tell Alexa to ask Kayak how much is the flight to this destination 😉 .

20. Skill Finder

A Skill for Finding Skills

There are over 3000 skills in the Alexa app and within you will find some that are educational and interesting and others that are just fun and stupid. That’s why Amazon created SkillFinder and made it easier for you to discover new skills. Find out about the newest, top skills in different categories. Just say “Alexa, tell SkillFinder to give me the skill of the day” and keep your Alexa app up to date.

 

If we were to add skill number 21, which one should it be?

 

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The 7 Most Popular Uses of Alexa

Did you buy an Amazon Echo and now you find yourself asking “Alexa, what time is it?” or “Alexa, how’s the weather today?” over and over again? It’s time for you to take your relationship with Alexa to the next level with some new conversation topics.

If you’re still not sure whether you should buy an Amazon Echo or not, these 7 uses might help you make up your mind.

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