Barbs Connected World

tomorrow's connected future is here today

Yonomi, LifX, Alexa and Routines (Scenes)

 

I recently discovered the Yonomi App which was the result of a narrow quest to enable voice control for my Sonos stations using Alexa. The Connected Home landscape is still filled with detours and roadblocks, but Amazon’s Alexa (Echo) is what Siri should have been and there is support for far more devices and vendors on the Alexa platform. With the Alexa Skills for developers, the platform is open and growing.

The best of the bunch of existing Alexa Skills is Yonomi. That was my opinion even before the nice folks at Yonomi sent me a LifX 1000 color bulb and a Vita Copenhagen EOS mini feather lamp to add to my connected home. I’ve got some Hue bulbs, lightstrips and Hue Blooms, and I was already enamored of what color does in my home. To me, it is “internal landscaping with light”, but also very functional. Unlike Hue, which needs a hub, LifX is Wi-Fi (and cloud) based. LifX app setup is a little quirky as you need to go and reset your password as no password is configured at all when you set up your light(s), which I see as a huge flaw. Most consumers won’t figure this out as resetting a non-existent password isn’t exactly logicial. But, all in all, my LifX color bulb nestled in my new feather lamp in the guest bedroom is a nice addition to my connected home.

small lifx whitelifx pink

LifX has a nice iOS app, an Android app (that I have no experience with) and wonder of wonders, a Windows App. LifX is possibly alone in official support of the Windows Platform. Insteon made an initial attempt to support the platform, but has seemingly abandoned it, as their Windows App broke around October 2015 and has not been fixed, nor has it been updated with the new functionality available to iOS and Android. Hue has done nothing for Windows users and their iOS app is not very robust. Lutron has done nothing for Windows users. So a shoutout to LifX for being an equal opportunity developer.

windows app

 

I’ve recently added an Echo Dot to my connected home and it resides on my nightstand connected to my first generation Bose Wave/PC radio. Alexa can hear me in the Master Bedroom, the Guestroom. and my Home Office in the Loft above the bedroom. Perfect. Running Smarthome discovery again in the Echo app got my new Feather Lamp discovered immediately. Alexa controls this beautifully including dimming and color changes. The official commands are listed at http://www.lifx.com/pages/alexa – and I customized what I need for my new Feather lamp.

I love my new LifX bulb. Wish I could afford a few more…

Loving the Yonomi App

The Connected Home isn’t about single devices. It’s about getting disparate devices from a variety of vendors to play nice together and create scenes that include mutliple vendors. Alexa has groups, but they don’t handle everything, especially fine control of my Sonos speakers. And here is where Yonomi shines. Yonomi has a long (and growing) list of supported devices. (I’d love to see Yonomi add Insteon and Lutron Caseta hubs to the mix – this would cover everything I currently have in my connected home.)

Yonomi allows you to create both time and geofencing based “routines” (many vendors call these scenes). You can create these and use them from the Yonomi App AND run device discovery in the Amazon Echo app to allow voice control via Alexa for these same routines. At the simplest level, you can create a routine without a time or location dependency by configuring (or leaving on the default setting) Date & Time without any parameters. Then add your action items for your device(s). I created two routines. Feather on and Feather off (shown below). I’ll be adding my Hue gear to the Yonomi authorized list soon and create some more complex “routines” involving turning on lights and Sonos music. Once I complete this, I’ll ask Alexa to run the routine. More information is available from Yonomi on this type of usage.

yonomi sceneyonomi2

My personal style is to set up what I need in the Yonomi App and use Alexa voice control for on demand connected home actions/routines. The location based (geofencing) routines just work automatically, as do the time based routines. So once configured, while I could run routines from the Yonomi app, I prefer voice control. I suspect that when my list of routines gets big, I’ll need to depend more on the app to remind me what I’ve configured, but over time, I intend to use voice control whenever possible.

Completing My Alexa Connected Home with Sonos Stations via Yonomi

Earlier this week I started a quest to include my Sonos speakers in my Connected Home in order to control them and action music with my Amazon Echo. I found a “wow” solution for DLNA control using JRiver Media Center and a powerful Alexa skill called House Band. What was missing was a way to summon and play my cloud based streaming stations using Alexa’s voice control. Last night I found a great solution in the Yonomi App (available for iOS and Android) that just this week added Alexa integration.

I’ve got a bunch of streaming stations configured in Sonos and all are added to my Sonos favorites. I’ve got Pandora Radio fav’s, Amazon Prime Stations, Tune In Radio, plus some of my own local playlists.

Yonomi works using routines that you can set up based on time and/or location, but you don’t need to make routines dependent on those criteria, you can just set up a routine that you can summon on demand, and once you hook up via the Smarthome menu on the Echo App, Alexa can TURN ON (routine name). Magic.

I’ve got all kinds of “things” provisioned in the Echo App. Insteon modules, Hue Lights, etc. Here’s a short video where I turn on a lamp and then start a Pandora Station that plays ABBA radio using a Yonomi routine called “Fun Stuff” to my Living Room Sonos:

 

 

Here’s how I did it.

 

1. I downloaded the Yonomi app and set up and account and then ran Discovery and it found my Sonos Speakers. I connected Yonomi to Alexa.

 

connect2alexa

2. I created a new routine without a location or time based trigger that sent my Favorite:Abba Radio (Pandora Station) to my Living Room Sonos and named it “Fun Stuff”. (You want to avoid using names that might trigger Amazon Music to play directly on the Echo, which is why I didn’t name it Abba Radio.

 

routineroutine2

3. I selected Favorites in the Yonomi App and added Fun Stuff

 

favorites

4. I opened the Echo app from a computer (http://echo.amazon.com) and navigated to Smarthome and ran Discovery. Yonomi, the Sonos Speakers, and the Routines were discovered. Note: every time you add a new routine you will need to return to the Echo App and run discovery, the routines are not added automatically; think of them as devices that need to be discovered every time a new one is added).

 

I can now tell Alexa to Turn on Fun Stuff. Boom, the Sonos speaker starts playing Abba Radio.

 

Bonus! I get a notification on my Apple Watch showing what routine is being run.

 

yonomi

I’m REALLY liking this – and I’ve just gotten started. I’ve got Yonomi for streaming station Alexa voice control and House Band that can actually search my local collection and put together on the fly playlists by artist, album, etc. Can it get any better than this?

Whole Home Sonos Control using Amazon Echo Skill

 

I’ve always wanted voice control for my Sonos speakers, and the TL;DR version of my story is that thanks to a new Alexa Skill named House Band, I have succeeded. Here’s a short demo where I’ve used the intro to a track called Boats for Sale from a CD I own (so as not to violate any copyrights) to showcase this Skill. What’s really cool is that once Alexa starts playing music to my Sonos, I can use other Alexa functions without stopping the music (like asking for the weather as in the demo below). When I ask Alexa to ask House Band to play Boats for Sale, there is a short delay after acknowledgement because the software is actually SEARCHING my collection for this track.

How did I make this happen?

 

My Connected World includes a couple of Sonos Play 5 speakers, one in the Living Room and one in my Home Office. They are a couple of floors apart, but they cover 95% of my condo. The folks at Sonos haven’t announced any plans to enable Sonos with Amazon’s Echo and given their recent announcements and staff changes, I think it’s unlikely that this will ever happen. I’ve become spoiled with all the home automation Alexa voice control in the “Connected Home” Echo app, as I’ve got Insteon and Hue. (I’ve also got some Lutron gear, but that’s another story – they aren’t integrated with Echo either, but I’ve kludged up some IFTTT recipes to cover a few needs).

I went in search of a way to get Alexa to control my Sonos players, and while there are some super geeky node.js solutions out on Github, I discovered an Alexa Skill named House Band that was a dedicated voice controller for the JRiver Media Center App. I knew that JRiver MC included some DLNA functionality and wondered if I could tie all of this together. So, I downloaded the (Windows) trial version of the app (the app is available for other platforms as well). To take full advantage of seamless Sonos control, you’ll need a computer that runs 24/7 on the same network as your Sonos and if your router supports it, configure a reserved IP for this computer (or a static IP) so that Alexa can communicate with the JRiver MC software.

After downloading the app,installing it and allowing the Windows Firewall setting, I setup the port forwarding on my router to enable cloud functionality (needed for the House Ba nd Alexa Skill). During setup, a six digit access key is generated, which you will need when activating the House Band Alexa Skill, as shown in the image below (no, this is not MY access key). If you don’t save it when prompted, it will be available from the JRiver Media Center Tools, Options menu. Obviously, you will need to configure JR Media Center to point to your Music Library as part of initial setup. For purposes of using the Alexa House Band Skill, only local music content is supported (no cloud based music services).

 

access key

Be sure to verify that MR Media Center is set to start with Windows from the Tools, Options menu (see image below).

JR MC startup

To take full advantage of whole home Sonos with the House Band Alexa Skill, simply DLNA device names inside the JRiver MC app in order to be able to use short, meaningful device names for “Zones”. Windows DLNA discovery/JRiver MC uses long, technobabble names like Sonos: Play 5:Living Room Renderer. I right clicked and renamed to Living Room. In the screenshot below, I’m renaming my WDTVLiveHub (a different DLNA renderer) to Live Hub.

dlna rename

The DLNA protocol does not natively support linking devices for synchronized playback, but the JRiver Media Center has this functionality. Use your mouse to drag a player under Playing Now on top of the player you want to link and release your mouse. After doing this, My Living Room and Office Sonos Play 5’s were linked! You can unlink and “Play To” an individual “Zone” (and the House Band Alexa Skill includes the capability to change zones so once enabled, you’ll be able to do this by voice).

Here’s a demo of Alexa changing Zones using the House Band Alexa Skill. I’m sending one of my JRiver Playlists to a SONOS speaker in my Dining Room. The amazing House Band Alexa Skill works with JRiver Media Center and lets me send music to individual Zones. Each of my SONOS players is in an individual Zone right now and not linked.

It’s time to enable the House Band Alexa Skill in the Alexa App/web app. Go to the skills menu and search for House Band or use THIS LINK, and enter the 6 digit code to enable it. If your port forwarding is correctly setup and the firewall is set to allow communications with the app, you should get a confirmation.

Now it’s time to have some fun. A list of some of the voice commands recognized by the Alexa House Band Skill is available at http://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=15326.msg717359#msg717359 – and I suspect that this is just the beginning.

Let me know on Twitter @barbbowman if you have any questions.

Roomba!

I’m a geek and proud of it, so when my 26 year old canister vacuum’s motor seized up and died and ugly death, it was a choice of which “connected” vacuum to purchase and not a “should I” purchase decision. There were only two to consider, iRobot’s Roomba 980 and a Neato Botvac Connected Vacuum. While Neato’s vacuum was cheaper, iRobot has been in the business a long time, and I ultimately used that plus reviews and am the happy owner of a Roomba 980.

roomba

There’s no question that these Wi-Fi controllable robotic vacuums are expensive, but using my (admittedly skewed) justification math, if I value my time at $50 an hour (a low ball as I know my time is worth more than that) and compare to a Dyson, or an Electrolux, the extra $$ don’t seem very large. And I get back a couple of extra hours a week that I don’t have to spend dragging the old canister around my home. And if I didn’t mention it, I loathe vacuuming.

Roomba does an awesome job on my carpeted and linoleum floors, switching transparently from carpet mode to floor mode. And Roomba is actually quieter than my old canister.

Roomba 980 comes with a Home Base Docking Station and this amazing little guy finds his way back to the Home Base when a cleaning job is finished or when it needs to recharge in the middle of a cleaning job if the battery runs low. Once charged, Roomba just picks up where it left off. This vacuum comes with these two battery powered virtual lighthouses that work in two different modes that allow you to “mark” areas off limits. So I don’t have to worry about that tangled mess of cords and wires around my Living Room home theater setup.

While you can operate Roomba from the button controls on the top of the device itself, the real advantage is control from your smartphone. Only iOS and Android are supported (same story for the Neato Botvac), but I’ve become accustomed (sadly) to lack of Windows and Windows device support in the Connected Home arena. Fortunately, I have an iPhone.

And the real joy of owning a Roomba is remote control using the smartphone app.

 

 

The App is Everything

On a basic level, the app displays the battery information and all you have to do is tap Clean and let Roomba do its thing. However, you can tap your way down to more functionality that lets you view Care (what parts need cleaning), a History of cleaning jobs/cycles, Settings and even Help.

clean and chargemorecarejob history

 

Cleaning the appliance takes maybe all of 5-10 minutes and the Care status screen lets you visually see what might need attention. While the bin needs to be emptied after each job and the HEPA filter banged against the inside of a trash can a few times after every job, other Care tasks can be done weekly or monthly, depending on usage. The app provides all the info needed to perform these tasks, including videos on “how to” do these things.

 

clean debris extractorshelp videos

If you can’t tell that I’m impressed with this latest addition to my Connected Home.. I can assure you I am.

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