Tag Archives: Alexa

What is Ambient Sensing?

Although smart homes have been around for several years now, this industry is rather nascent. Even though we are familiar with the use of Amazon Alexas and Google Homes as smart devices, but for smart homes, they have their limitations.

Smart devices do use technologies promising levels of interoperability and convenience that were unheard of a few years ago. However, they have not been able to fulfill current expectations. For instance, they struggle if there is no home network, cannot use unprocessed data, and are typically standalone devices.

Movies provide a better concept of a smart home. They present a futuristic building with levels of autonomy and comfort far beyond what the current technology can provide. In the real world, our ability to interact with them is rather limited.

For instance, the smart technology available at present allows interaction with voice commands only, thereby limiting their autonomy. Although the current technology boasts of voice recognition, this is still frustrating and cumbersome to use. Most people seek a seamless experience that comes with higher intuitive or human interaction.

For instance, it is still not possible to unlock a smart home simply by improving voice commands. Although audio sensors do form a crucial element for intuitive interaction with a smart home, making them a part of a sensor array for providing better contextual information would be a better idea. For genuinely smart home, the devices must provide a more meaningful interaction, including superior personalization for contextualized decision-making.

While it may be possible for manufacturers to pack in unique sensor arrays in devices, some sensor types could prove to be more useful. For instance, cameras provide huge amounts of information, and smart systems could make use of this fact to perceive the smart home in a better way. Adding acoustic sensors, and gas sensors along with 3-D mapping could be one way of bringing smart environments to the next level.

By collating these inputs, smart devices can understand and implement individual preferences better. For instance, depending on who has entered or exited the room, a smart device can change the sounds, lights, safety features, and temperature matching that person’s profile. Smart devices must not limit themselves to comprehending the ambient alone, but be capable of changing the environment, even without direct inputs.

These features could go beyond providing comfort alone. For instance, with motion sensors, the device could extend security. Along with motion sensing, individual recognition, and 3-D mapping could make homes much safer. For saving energy, sensors for presence, daylight sensing, and temperature measurements could dim lights or adjust air conditioning for better comfort on hot days.

One of the issues holding back such implementation is consumer privacy. While homeowners have grown accustomed to smart speakers, endless examples are available of data-mining organizations that observe the consumer’s daily interaction with these devices. For instance, Amazon’s Astro robot has been accused of data harvesting and there is criticism of Facebook’s smart glasses by the Data Privacy Commission in Ireland. As devices get smarter and use more ambient technology, consumers will have to share greater amounts of data than they are doing at present.

Storm Glass Lamp: Raspberry Pi Simulates a Storm

Several people have used the versatile single board computer, the Raspberry Pi or RBPi, as many types of educational devices. In fact, the original purpose of conceiving the RBPi was to use it as an educational instrument to further computer programming among children in schools. It has been serving this purpose excellently, and has managed to go even farther. For instance, the RBPi inspired someone to make a weather-simulation lamp for recreating the weather at any place in the world.

The RBPi within the Storm Glass lamp uses the API Weather Underground for accessing current and future predicted weather at any place in the world. At first glance, one may be rather skeptic about the project, especially when the current weather can be gleaned simply by looking out of the window. However, perception soon dawns when explained that the project is actually able to predict weather—observing tomorrow’s weather today. Alternately, it is possible to keep track of the weather in a distant location, say, a prospective holiday destination.

The designer created the cap and base for the lamp by 3-D printing them. The glass sitting in between the two actually belongs to that fancy mineral water bottle readily available in the supermarkets, which people casually overlook and are forever unable to justify buying. The base also holds the RBPi, a microphone, a speaker, and other varied components such as a NeoPixel LED Ring and a Speaker Bonnet from Adafruit.

The Storm Glass lamp uses two important arrangements. One of them is the rain maker and the other the cloud generator. The rain maker uses a tiny centrifugal pump working at 5 VDC to pump water via glass tubing into the lid, from where the rain falls. An ultrasonic diffusor/humidifier, also working at 5 VDC, forms the cloud generator. Only the electronics parts of the diffusor, which create the ultrasonic signal, are necessary, and the rest can be discarded. All the equipment goes in together into one spectacular lamp.

By installing Alexa Voice Service within the Storm Glass lamp, and setting it up to use the Weather Underground API to receive data related to weather conditions in a specified place, these conditions are easily recreated within the lamp, functioning as a home automation device.

When taken outdoors, and placed on a nightstand, the Storm Glass can actually recreated he weather conditions outside. It gives a weather forecast for the day by checking the weather periodically online. For instance, if the prediction for the day is rainy, expect some rain to fall within the Storm Glass Lamp. If the predicted says partly cloudy, you will see clouds forming inside, with some sunshine interspersed.

An RBPiZW powers the project, as it needs both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support. Apart from the Speaker Bonnet, mini water pump, and the ultrasonic diffuser, there is a NeoPixel 12-LED ring, a 2.5 A micro USB power supply, 8 GB micro SD Card, two TIP 120 transistors and two 2K2 resistors. Additionally, you will also need tubing for moving water, lots of hot glue, and the 3-D printed parts to hold all the above together. All the parts operate at 5 VDC, so there is no additional converter, and the RBPIZW controls everything.