'Who's there?' Amazon's Echo sees potential beyond voice in smart home security

In the not-too-distant future, if you can’t find your house keys, you’ll know exactly where to look: In the Smithsonian.

Thanks to Amazon, keys are on their way to becoming artifacts. Today, all you really need to lock and unlock your front door are vocal chords and a simple word: “Alexa.”

Amazon Smart Home, the company’s home security program, has been around since 2014, but only recently has it started working with voice recognition.

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“Smart Home is something that’s been around for a long time,” said Daniel Rausch, vice president of Smart Home at Amazon, “but it turned out that customers had to fish in their pocket to control their home. Pull out the remote control, find the appropriate app, find the right page in the app and click a button just to do something as simple as turning on a light.”

Now Amazon has moved to a different approach, one that emphasizes simplicity. Instead of pulling out your phone and tapping the screen several times, all you have to do is say, “Alexa, unlock the door.”

Amazon now has hundreds of products that offer Alexa skills, and hundreds more are being added every month. Many of them are dedicated to home security, including smart locks like Dwelo and Kevo, which allow users to unlock their homes via voice command even when they’re not near the door. Others, such as August Smart Lock, will lock the door too, when you tell Alexa your pin code. Amazon Echo also connects to home security systems such as Scout, Alarm.com and SimpliSafe. Some require paid plans to sync with Alexa, but one system, abode, has a no-fee plan that lets you tell Alexa to arm and disarm your system.

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And then there’s ADT, which was founded in 1874 but is hardly dated when it comes to technology. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the company unveiled its new ADT Pulse skill for Alexa, which is free for ADT Pulse subscribers.

“It was important to us that ADT was able to deliver a full suite of solutions to our customers through Alexa,” said Adam Feigen, ADT’s director of public relations and competitive intelligence. “Amazon Echo and ADT have been natural extensions of the home for the past few years — ADT for over 140 years, really.”

With the ADT Pulse skill enabled, users can tell Alexa to arm and disarm their security system, check its status, turn interior and exterior lights on and off, lock and unlock specific doors or inquire about their status. It can even open and close the garage door — a handy feature when you’re carrying groceries or children.

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Of course, you need one of Amazon’s Alexa devices to handle your voice commands, ranging from the $49.99 Echo Dot to the $149.99 Amazon Tap and the $179.99 Echo. And now there’s a new addition: the Echo Show ($229.99), which has a 7-inch screen that plays media, can be used for video calls and adds a visual element to Alexa-controlled home security. Ask Alexa to show you the front door or a child’s bedroom, and Echo Show pulls up a live feed from a camera. “We use Echo Show at my home to make sure we understand who is coming in and out of the house,” said Rausch.

Currently the Echo Show only works with home security cameras such as Arlo by NETGEAR and Ring video doorbells, but Amazon is adding to the list.

“We see Alexa as the great simplifier in the home,” said Rausch. “You can ask Alexa, ‘Is my door locked? Is my security system armed?’ You just have a great peace of mind.”

Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.