Advertisements for the Amazon Echo are cute, and highlight the device’s ability to find and play the right song when all you can remember are a few of the lyrics, offer recipes, answer spelling questions and provide weather forecasts. That’s all nice and good, but my wife—the closet techno geek in the family—received one of the female-voiced home devices on Christmas, and its ability to harden your home-defense profile is profound.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to run your Remington 870 or lock your safe room door while you wait for law enforcement to arrive ( actually it could, but I still have nightmares about Hal in “2001: A Space Oddysey”) . Echo is a Hacksaw Ridge-style conscientious objector—not able to shoulder the gun, but its programming might confuse and deter the criminal until help arrives. That also makes it a viable alternative for those friends and family who have made it painfully obvious they’ll never own a firearm or get the training needed to use it for self-defense.
My experience is limited, but here’s what I’ve discovered.
- It responds to a light voice/whisper in close proximity. Think about that for a minute. If it or the smaller Echo Dot are on your nightstand when you hear glass shattering at the back of the house, you can quietly say, “Alexa, turn on the den lights.” Then casually get up and lock the bedroom door, dial 911, and the criminal either escapes due to the sudden appearance of light there or it buys you precious time while they search for the insomniac homeowner nearby.
- My wife tied the system into her cell phone’s Siri app and now it can control all the devices/lights from a remote location—don’t ask me how, she’s the geek in denial around here. But, if I’m on a trip and she comes to a dark home one evening, she can sit in the driveway and say “Siri, turn on the home lights.” In about one second the place glows like the Vegas strip on a Saturday night. You can also flip those switches from your vacation destination, or program everything to go on daily when you like.
- The system my wife set up for all the lights to come on doesn’t include the bedroom light (it’s a separate command and each of the rooms can come on individually or in groups by different phrases). If we don’t know the exact location of that bump in the night because it woke us up, saying, “Alexa, turn on the home lights,” bathes the entire place in illumination, except our bedroom/safe room. That’s a whole lot better than fumbling around for a light switch while a criminal could be nearby or printing our location instantly. That also means an armed intruder walking into that doorway after Alexa has done her dirty work will look like a silhouette target at the range. Just sayin’.
- Another voice in the house isn’t a bad thing, either, although the fact that Alexa has a ring that lights up when responding to commands probably also means it’ll become an early target for violence. A volume switch allows you to adjust her decibel level.
Before you think it’ll break the bank, our system is only four lights, one smart switch and the Echo. We’re waiting for the bedside-designated Dot, which can be paired with the bigger unit. Yes, we have a small house, but even a few of these lights could make a huge difference anywhere.
There’s lot of information out there, but not much on the system and setup. Basically, if you get a Phillips Hue beginner’s kit you get three “smart” lights and a hub that connects to your Internet router/Wifi hub by Lan cord.
You then tell Alexa to pair up to the lights after they are in and have power applied. She tells you to tap the button on the hub and it finds them. Then, using the app on your smart phone, you name each bulb (or assign them to named groups). She updates and you can tell her to turn them on or off by the label prescribed. The bulbs are controlled wirelessly, so there’s no way to override if Alexa or the hub decide to go out on strike and they’re designed for interior use only.
The smart plug, however, has an override button I can press. I’m going to stay with models with that feature, although I’m probably being a little paranoid.
Sometimes Alexa doesn’t discover the new bulbs (that happened with one of our four). In that case, go to the phone app, enter the light’s serial number, update, tell her to find new devices and it’ll install—or at least it did for us.
The most confusing part of installation was the wall plug. It required us to enable her “skill” for that company’s firmware, a feature also found on the app. That fact makes it obvious you’re smart if you minimize the hardware mix.
The ability to call for Domino’s Pizza, replace your egg timer and explain poison oak is cute, but for now I’m more impressed with Echo’s other features. There’s no denying it’s an added deterrent for the elderly or mobility impaired who’re too often viewed as easy prey by criminals, but when combined with a firearm and training, the ability to remotely control lighting without ever compromising a proper firearm grip (or leaving the safe room) could be a lifesaving tactical advantage.