Adam from MotorhomeWifi takes a look at the application of the latest ‘Smart Home’ devices
It’s looking like 2020 is going to be the year of the Smart Home, with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home going head to head this Christmas with heavily discounted devices and compatible smart accessories. As we start to integrate these devices into our home lives, we naturally start looking to how we can integrate them into our motorhoming lives and it’s not nearly as hard as you may think.
‘Smart’ devices have in fact been around for a long while, I had light switches that could be controlled via a smartphone app long before any voice control came around. However, by adding a ‘voice hub’ it then allows you to control multiple groups or families of devices via a simple verbal command. This means that you will have likely been able to complete that action, such as turning a light on, long before you would have been able to locate, never mind get as far as to unlock your phone. Bringing together multiple manufacturers devices from a single point really increases their usability and viability in a home or motorhome setting. There really is no right or wrong way to achieve this and the following is merely my perspective and experience of experimenting with some of the options.
I’ll leave to one side the concerns that smartphone devices are ‘listening’ to us as they undoubtedly are doing, however, unless you are working as an undercover Russian agent there shouldn’t be any reason to be concerned. Every search you make online, every supermarket you visit is tracking you by identifiable information from the hardware or payment methods you use. As for Smart devices, they are always listening locally for their ‘wake’ command, such as ‘Alexa’ or ‘Hey Google’, but whatever you say thereafter is usually interrogated via the internet to make sense of what it is you just asked and to give the right response.
To get started you need two things, the first is to decide into which camp you want to be in – are you a Google Home or are you an Amazon Alexa? I’m no great fan of either company, I purchased an Amazon Alexa ‘Dot’ when they first came out in 2014. and couldn’t wait to purchase a Google Home when they arrived 2 years later. Sadly, despite using Google for everything on a day to day basis, Alexa really does seem to have the edge when it comes to ease of use and compatibility and so gets my recommendation. I’m afraid Siri and Cortana, Apple and Microsoft’s attempts, don’t get much of a look in here due to the lack of device choices.
While third parties can have access to ‘Google Voice’ or ‘Alexa’ each company manufacture their own lightweight DC powered unit with an integral speaker, known as a ‘Dot’ for Amazon (£49.99, but often £19.99 – £24,99) and a ‘Mini’ for Google (£39.99, often £19.99). This will allow you to give voice commands and hear a response and listen to audio, the speakers are also surprisingly good for background music or news.
For the Alexa, you will need either a Dot 2 which is 5v USB powered or if using the Dot 3 which is 12v powered it is best to get a USB to 12v adapter (available on Amazon) as this is smaller than an equivalent 12v DC-DC regulator and costs about £8. For the Google Mini, the current version is 5v USB powered. Power consumption for a dot seems to be about 0.4A/hr @12v in standby and various inexpensive wall mounts can be purchased.
The second is you need some form of WiFi router in your van as a central point or internet connection to connect all of your devices to. Ideally, this wouldn’t be the hotspot on your phone if you intend to add devices such as controls for lights, which we’ll come onto in a minute. The other consideration is how many devices you are going to be using – most MiFi devices allow connection of between 5-10 devices so consider if you may need more – the E5785 will support up to 16 or the B315 up to 32.
For more information on 4G systems for your motorhome as well as streaming TV via the internet, see the previous issue of the Motorhome Fun magazine.
Great, so now you have an internet connection and something in the van that’s listening to you (makes a change) – what can you do with it?
This article is part of a series written for MotorhomeFun Magazine. It appears in the January 2020 edition