How You Can Control Your IoT with Speech Commands from Alexa

If you’ve ever attended a Logical Advantage Lunch & Learn or a Charlotte IoT event, then you already know Dan Thyer, CTO and Co-Founder of Logical Advantage and extraordinary IoT inventor. On January 24th at 11:30 AM, Dan will be leading a Logical Advantage Lunch & Learn on controlling your IoT with speech commands from Alexa.

We recently sat down with Dan to talk all things IoT, including how IoT is changing, what the benefits of machines like Alexa are, and how you can configure these machines for your own projects. On top of that, he also shared with us a civic hackathon that will be hosted by Charlotte IoT…details coming soon.

Keep reading to learn more about what you can expect from this month’s Lunch & Learn and how you can get involved in the upcoming civic hackathon!


LA News: Hi, Dan! Most of our readers know you very well, but for our new visitors, tell us a little bit about yourself personally, as well as your professional background with IoT.

Dan Thyer: Our household consists of my wife, two boys, two girls, a cat and a dog! Everyone in the house, including the pets, loves the benefits of living with IoT.

I started enhancing our house with IoT devices that I built back in 2010, which was long before the marketing people coined the term IoT. The first device I built was an internet-connected squirt gun, so I could nail the kids swimming in the pool when I was anywhere. I wrote an article and published my code from my initial projects, which went viral in the geek and open source community with over 300,000 views on my first article.

Since then, I have completed over 30 IoT projects and have a million views on my articles. The pets get included in the fun, and I built an IoT cat toy with a laser and puppet mouse that can be controlled over the internet. I’m presently working on a project that uses Azure Machine Learning, BLE beacons, and Windows 10 IoT Core to predict the health of my pets.

LA News: You’re no stranger to presenting on IoT. In fact, you’ve written several articles on IoT and home automation. Can you provide a few links to share with our readers?

Dan Thyer: Here are some fun ones:

IoT for Home Automation

Open Source – IoT Home Automation Projects

Home Automation with Netduino and Kinect

Home Automation with Microsoft Kinect Point Cloud

LA News: How do you anticipate IoT changing in 2017? And beyond?

Dan Thyer: The biggest innovations that I see coming in 2017 in both IoT–and software technology in general–are cloud services that make machine learning and predictive analytics easier. Cloud services are becoming available that make it much easier for software developers to do the work that only high-end expert data scientists could previously do. Microsoft in particular has done a great job with providing a cloud platform that is easy for regular software developers to configure the machine learning and react to the data in real time.

I think that we will come up with all kinds of new use cases for this technology now that it is available to the masses. For example, I’m working on a project that uses IoT and Azure Machine Learning to predict the health of my pets. The industry is using this type of technology to predict machine failure (and the type of failure) to significantly improve uptime and keep repair cost much less.

LA News: This January Lunch & Learn won’t be your first time speaking on controlling IoT with speech commands from Alexa. But what will make this session unique?

Dan Thyer: The first time that I spoke on Alexa, I had only written one skill, but I have more experience now, and I did some work over the holiday to write a cloud service that the Alexa Skill Kit API invokes to control my home automation. I can now control the fireplace, cat toy, squirt gun, and all the IoT devices that I have built in the home. I’m not using the Smart Home Skill API that you see all of the commercial applications on TV. Instead, I decided to use the API for a custom interaction model so that I could make it more configurable and add more functionality than the basic functionality that you can do with the Smart Home Skill.

LA News: We understand that Lunch & Learn participants will be able to check out a few of your own innovations, like your 20 foot IoT Christmas tree. Can you give us a sneak preview into these and the role Alexa played in them?

Dan Thyer: I view Alexa as a User Interface, or UI as we say in software. I built the API to control my home many years ago. The API can be invoked from many user interfaces, such as with your phone, your watch, from doing gestures with the Microsoft Kinect, from a web browser, and now from Alexa. I did not need to update anything in the backend to leverage the machine learning power of Alexa. The APIs allow you to configure the intents and slots. (Intents are what you want to do, such as turn on a light. Slots allow you to define categories that you want the machine learning to pick from.)

For example, I defined a slot for the devices in my house, with included things like the fireplace, the office light, the Christmas tree lights. Alexa does not limit itself with the categories that you define, but it helps the machine learning better predict what you want to pick.

LA News: What do you think are a few of the unique benefits offered by machines like Alexa? Are there any challenges?

Dan Thyer: Machines like Alexa offer a natural user interface to computing. It is much easier and more natural to speak to a computer system for many requests than to type what you need.

The backend understanding of the natural language is very interesting, too. One of the most exciting (and scary) innovations in software is bots that figure out the intent of what you’re saying. This technology will be a huge game changer and will probably replace people for doing things like phone or chat support, telemarketing and surveying.

Another huge benefit comes to people who have limited mobility or are paraplegic. This technology is a huge enablement for someone who does not have good ability to use their hands.

LA News: What three questions do you hope to answer for participants at this month’s Lunch & Learn?

Dan Thyer:
1) How can I help with the civic hacking for Nick Browning who is a quadriplegic from an unfortunate car accident? (Keep reading for more information.)
2) How can you configure the machine learning aspects so that Alexa can understand the intents of what you are saying?
3) Where can I get more of this goodness?  (The answer, of course, is Charlotte IoT.)

LA News: Can you tell us more about the upcoming civic hacking hosted by Charlotte IoT?

Dan Thyer: Charlotte IoT is organizing a civic hacking for Nick Browning. He was a passenger in a high school car accident that left him quadriplegic 20 years ago. Benjamin Gatti, a community STEM and Makerspace leader, attended my talk on Alexa at Charlotte IoT, and he instantly knew the perfect application for this technology. He approached me with an idea for Charlotte IoT to do a project to help enable Nick and make his life better.

Nick cannot move anything below his neck, so if he gets cold in the middle of the night, then he relies on family to adjust his blanket. We are going to use this technology so that he can give voice commands to control the temperature on his electric blanket, adjust the speed of his ceiling fan and control the lights. We also plan on mounting an Echo Dot to his wheelchair and adjusting the heating coil in a jacket for when he is outside. We are designing the electronics to work with the wheelchair battery. I’m hoping that our members will come up with other ideas that can better enable Nick to do things. We will run all the ideas past Nick, and if he wants to be able to do something like send text messages from Alexa, then we will build that skill.

Hackster.io is helping the group with providing hardware and money to purchase components to make this possible. Logical Advantage is helping by organizing the hackathon and providing lunch. If you are interested in helping, then please join Charlotte IoT and send me, Dan Thyer, a message through Meetup.


Thanks, Dan! To attend Dan’s Lunch & Learn on controlling IoT with speech commands from Alexa, RSVP here. And for more information about the upcoming civic hackathon, contact Dan Thyer on the Charlotte Internet of Things Meetup group.

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