When Belkin International launched its WeMo line of connected devices in 2012, it wasn’t its first foray into consumer electronics. Belkin has been around for 30 years, transforming its business from cabling to connectivity, wireless networking, and eventually into home automation.
According to CJ Pipkin, Belkin’s national account manager for WeMo, the farther the company delved into wireless networking, the more it realized people wanted to remote-control devices of all kinds around the home. So Belkin transformed its Zensi energy-monitoring devices into what become WeMo—a line of smart, remote-controlled and remotely-monitored switches.
“We built a smart ecosystem of connected devices as early as anyone in the industry,” Pipkin says.
Belkin makes a variety of devices, but high-quality switches dominate its WeMo home automation lineup:
- WeMo switch – smart outlet you control from anywhere (Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G)
- WeMo Insight switch (control and monitor power usage from anywhere)
- WeMo light switch that replaces a standard light switch
But since Amazon Echo and Alexa came on the scene, it’s completely changed Belkin’s way of thinking. They realized one household user—the techiest one—had previously dominated WeMo usage. With Alexa, though, anyone can operate a connected device with ease.
Tom Hudson, software product manager for WeMo, says smartphones were a natural way to control home devices at first, especially lighting. They are handy for configuring set-it-and-forget-it automations to respond to specific events. For more immediate actions, though, voice actuation is so much better. “It’s a lot easier to just say, ‘Turn that light on’ than it is to pull out your phone, find and load up the app, then locate and tap the right command.”
In the beginning, there was no Smart Home Skill API…
You might think WeMo is a perfect candidate for using the Alexa Smart Home Skill API to control the switches via Echo or another Alexa-enabled device, but WeMo was working with Echo when it was first made available to all customers in June 2015, months before the Smart Home Skill API went into beta. How did that happen?
Amazon had done a proof-of-concept for its Lighting API before it approached Belkin, who had a universal plug-and-play (UPnP) implementation for its WeMo devices. The two then collaborated to refine the POC implementation and bundle the WeMo UPnP implementation into Alexa for the initial launch. At the time, the Smart Home Skill API didn’t yet exist.
The utterances for all WeMo switches are straightforward:
- Alexa, turn on the “kitchen light”
- Alexa, turn off the “attic fan”
Adapting to the Smart Home Skill API
Hudson says both companies learned from the experience. He feels the original collaboration between Amazon and Belkin helped Amazon finalize the Lighting API. Amazon rolled that API into the Smart Home Skill API in February.
Once the Smart Home Skill API was available, Hudson’s team used it to create Belkin’s WeMo skill adapter. He says using the API was straightforward, though he faced a few of interesting technical challenges, including some unique user authentication and moving from local to cloud-based device discovery. “Thankfully, we were able to work through them with Amazon and the WeMo Smart Home Skill is currently undergoing certification.”
Moving home automation forward with Alexa and Smart Home
Pipkin is proud Belkin’s WeMo has been part of the original Echo, even before the Alexa Skills Kit and Smart Home Skill API came along. He says Belkin is looking forward to further collaborations when it’s time to extend the smart home with new devices.
When asked about the growing importance of voice control and Belkin’s past and future involvement with Alexa, he summed it up this way:
“In the end, it’s about connecting things and helping people live their daily lives with more convenience. Now it’s even easier with Alexa and voice control.”
Alexa, turn off the office lights.
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