SmartHomeDinner – October 2016 – London

At the #SmartHomeDinner on Tuesday the 25th October 2016 at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Hampshire on Leicester Square in London we were given a thoroughly good look at Amazon Echo and Alexa.  The latest product from Amazon and with it, the first consumer facing stand alone voice interface I have had a chance to play with.

Right size, right for me?

Amazon Echo

The first thing that surprised me was how small the Amazon Echo actually is – I imagined something larger and from the pictures was deceived into thinking it would be about twice the size however in real life it is actually quite compact and very very sleek.

It would certainly not look out of place in the kitchen or living room for that matter and only needs a plug socket for power and an active wifi for connectivity.

The voice recognition is a little patchy but seems better than Siri however it uses A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) to learn every time you speak to it so technically speaking it should improve over time.  The basic commands we used worked quite well but you do have to speak a little like a robot making sure you pronounce words clearly.  The speaker is pretty good, nice and deep which gives Alexa a nice silkiness to her voice which is so much better than anything else I have come across so far.

I can probably hear Alexa in my kitchen, even though I live in an Apple household through and through.  So long as the two ecosystems can live side by side then ok but if I have to choose I will revert to Apple because of the time invested and usefulness of the system.  I have no problem with other technologies working on the outskirts but can’t be forced to choose.  I could also see Amazon Dot’s in a few rooms around the house but that might be overkill for the family.

At £149.99 in the UK I think it is priced well, slightly more than Apple TV at £139 but not as much as a high end Pure Evoke DAB radio at £199.  It does double as an intelligent speaker/radio – in a way, Pure could have launched something like this and made quite an impression in the market but I assume they are busy developing better radios 🙂

Skills and demonstrations

Jess Williams – co-founder from Opearlo kicked off the evening with a look at voice as an interface and some very interesting statistics including the fact that Google now process 1.5B voice searches a day and in addition to this has reported that 20% of searches on the Google Mobile App in 2015 were done using voice.

As a result of the above statistics we can see that voice is obviously something that is already here and perhaps here to stay although we did not see any trend information and perhaps won’t for another year or two.

Jess demonstrated several Skills (apps) on the Amazon Echo and in particular an app that allows traders to place trades using voice rather than traditional interfaces – conversation around this and other B2B applications was of interest but the B2C market is obviously where it is at for Amazon for now.


We can certainly see hotel bedrooms being equipped at some point in the future and many more B2B applications.

Nick James, organiser of the popular, event at Excel on the 16th and 17th November 2016, discussed briefly how voice might be difficult to make available at events however Dean mentioned that Amazon themselves use Alexa to let people know wifi codes when hosting events which is a simple but effective use.

The API and how to create Skills

Dean Bryen – Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon then gave us a behind the scenes look at the Amazon Echo and how specifically the API works – this part of the event was recording in full 1080p HD using our 360 degree camera and is available here for those that would like to view the recording.

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Internet of Me

Throughout the evening we had been addressing Alexa using voice which is of course the design principal however we also have other ways of interacting with technology when within the SmartHome and one of these methods was highlighted by Todd Gray, Chairman and CEO of autonomous_ID via Skype all the way from Canada, who had been introduced to me by Indiana based and ultra supportive Insurtech Advisor, Steven Sandquist.  The bio_sole is designed to capture and measure many different data points from a sole within our shoe and connect this using the API to certain skills at the heart of Alexa – a truly fascinating approach from a visionary and highly personable entrepreneur.  Click here for more information on autonomous_ID.


Conversation from senior execs such as Kriti Sharma (Director of Bots and AI at Sage) and Zurich based Cecilia Sevilliano (Head of Partnerships, Smart Homes at SwissRE) was obviously focused on B2B use cases although unfortunately we did not have a huge amount of time to drill in to these in much detail at all but there are enormous opportunities plain for everyone to see.

It was great to see digital entrepreneur regulars such as Simon Barry, Saf Ali and Baiju Solanki attend which as always brought an entrepreneurial element to the event and input from Infusionsoft expert Daryl Hine was fresh and engaging.

Nice to hear that MD of Ecce Media, Brant McNaughton ordered an Amazon Dot on his way home and had already planned ahead an Amazon Echo hack day next week – it will be interesting to see what skills they come up with that Alexa can add to her existing 3,500 skills.

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My overall conclusion is that I will most likely order a unit for the kitchen and use it as a replacement for our Pure radio which will go in to another room.  I will show the family how it works but won’t go too deep as I don’t want to confuse everyone and put the whole family off before I have even started.  I don’t really want them trying loads of different commands because it most likely won’t recognise them and this will put everyone off it.  However, if they are passionate about it I am sure they will find their own way – basically, I’ll buy it but then it’s over to Alexa as to whether or not we use it.

Duncan Gledhill