February 27, 2018Jennifer King
When the latest generation smart home devices started appearing on store shelves, Andrea Bianco was intrigued. But when Amazon introduced Echo, she knew something special was afoot.
“I’d started dabbling in automation in my own home,” say Bianco. “I had no experience using voice at all, but I saw enormous potential in it. I knew that here was my new career. It felt so natural, so ‘right’.”
Today, Bianco is an Alexa Champion with a thriving smart home consulting business in southern Arizona, helping homeowners get the best experience possible from smart home devices. She has provided residential implementations for 200+ homeowners and is a sought-after speaker on applying voice automation in the home and beyond.
“I absolutely fell in love with Echo and knew voice would be a pivotal moment for me,” says Bianco. “Controlling your smart home with your voice would take things to a whole new level—and it was where I wanted to go.”
Until two years ago, Andrea Bianco worked as a data analyst for a customs brokerage firm, and before that she had a long career in healthcare. When her firm downsized in 2015, Bianco once again found herself at a career crossroads.
“I had to decide whether to stay in the business or do something else—again,” says Bianco. “About the same time Amazon released the original Echo, I had this idea. I decided to combine this new technology with my own fascination with home automation.”
When Bianco started her company, smart device vendors were selling thermostats, lights, and a few fans, most of them controlled with custom smartphone apps. She made the rounds to the local electronics stores, buying any home IoT devices she could find, then experimenting with them at home.
“I found it clunky to have to find my phone and fumble around with all those apps,” says Bianco. “Being able to simply speak a command was really attractive to me, and I knew it would be for homeowners, too.”
The biggest pain point for her before voice was getting these separate devices installed, connected, and working together. To solve this for her clients, Bianco designs and implements personalized smart home solutions. This includes installing and configuring Alexa-certified products that are built to work with Alexa using the Smart Home Skill API, and leveraging Alexa’s built-in smart home capabilities, including Routines, Alexa-enabled groups, and scenes. To meet her clients’ unique needs, she works with Alexa developers to build custom skills.
“Amazon keeps pushing the boundaries of smart home with Alexa,” says Bianco. “Alexa makes it easy to control smart home devices, creating a great foundation for all my projects. Then the custom skill API lets me create a truly customized, one-of-a-kind solution for clients.”
Bianco says her primary clients are residential homeowners who are looking to integrate Alexa into their homes in sophisticated ways.
“They start out with two or three devices, and a month later they’re calling me back for more,” says Bianco. “It's so engaging, my services almost sell themselves.”
Often Bianco invites clients to visit her home, which she says is probably “one of the most automated homes they’ve ever seen.” She then walks through the client’s home, discussing their lifestyles, their goals and various possibilities before creating an implementation plan.
Some of Bianco’s more interesting projects let homeowners monitor events in their home, whether they are home or away. Using motion sensor cameras, Alexa can flash colored lights to alert homeowners when someone is at the door—great for customers with hearing loss. When water leak sensors detect excess moisture, Alexa can flash lights and send SMS alerts. And with one of Bianco’s favorite custom skills, the homeowner can ask Alexa for the status of various home devices—lights, coffee pots, humidifier, even curling irons—either by voice or by using a custom mobile app.
“The solutions are all very personal, but the possibilities are unlimited with voice,” says Bianco.
Besides her residential projects, Bianco often visits assisted living communities, speaking with administrators about how voice automation can help provide better resident care.
“In healthcare, I worked with a lot of elderly patients,” say Bianco. “For someone with a cane or on oxygen, using voice to close blinds or turn on bathroom lights at night is more than convenience, it’s a matter of safety.”
One solution Bianco has implemented in a client’s residence helps ensure an elderly homeowner takes their daily medication. If sensors on the medicine cabinet detect no activity by 10:00 a.m., for example, Alexa sends text messages to a loved one or caregiver to give the person a check-up call.
“Raising awareness of the potential of voice automation like this is important work that’s near and dear to my heart,” says Bianco. “I consider it a way of giving back to my community.”
As for her courage to make such a leap, Bianco has always been inspired by strong women who drive change.
“Ironically, the one striking woman who inspired me the most in all this was—and is—my daughter,” says Bianco. “My daughter was a huge driving force in my starting this business. She said you have to see the potential, take the risk, and do what makes you happy.”
Taking that risk has done well by Bianco, who encourages other women to take notice of all the opportunities technology offers them and do the same.
“Voice technology isn’t a man’s field or a woman’s field,” she says. “Women are bringing Echo into the home as much or more so than men, and sometimes a woman’s perspective makes all the difference. Just get out there and get in the game.”
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