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Home / Tips and Tricks / Amazon’s Alexa can now sense people’s presence. Here’s How To Use The Creepy New Trick

Amazon’s Alexa can now sense people’s presence. Here’s How To Use The Creepy New Trick



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The new second-generation Amazon Echo Show has a person detection feature that can control other smart home gadgets such as lights and outlets.

Chris Monroe/CNET

New Amazon Echo Show smart screens have started shipping all over the country with a large number new features and tricks — one I’m eagerly awaiting: person detection. While Alexa can’t distinguish between individual people like Google’s Face Match or Apple’s FaceID can, the new Echo Show 8At the very least, Echo Show 5, and Echo Show Kids can find out if someone — everyone — is in the room with them or not. While that’s a pretty nifty feat in and of itself, what piqued my interest the most was what Alexa can do with that information right now.






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You can now use Person Detection to fire a series of commands as part of a Alexa routine. Think of lights going on and off depending on whether someone is in the room. An air conditioner or space heater that turns on or off depending on occupancy. Your front door might lock when no one is in the foyer, your bedtime routine might start when you open your bedroom door, your garage door might close, your kitchen might fill with chanting — all based on whether someone is there or not.

Of course, there’s usually a bit of a gap between how a new feature is used and how it works in the real world, and Alexa’s person detection is no exception. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great new trick, but there are some limitations, which I’ll explain in a moment after I show you how to set it up.

First, though, there are a few things to know: a hidden setting that you can’t change (but you should be aware of), plus another minor (but important) limitation to keep in mind.

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It’s important to note that Alexa on your Echo Show needs to go 7 whole minutes without detecting a person before the person detection trigger is reactivated.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Alexa’s person detection has a cool-down period

When I first started testing Alexa’s new person detection feature, I was convinced it didn’t work. I had a brand new Echo Show 8 on my desk and pointed it at myself while I was working. Next to it I placed a desk lamp, which I then plugged into a smart socket. I created a simple routine that told Alexa to turn on that smart outlet whenever the Echo Show 8 detected a person, and yet — no matter how much I typed, peeked suspiciously, or frantically banged my limbs — that daytime light never came on.

I was almost ready to write off the new feature as DOA when an Amazon rep told me that Alexa adheres to a 7-minute cooldown between person-detection events. To test this, I moved the Echo Show 8 to another room, turned off the smart plug, and set a 7-minute timer. When the alarm went off, I sauntered into the other room. Look at me, my presence triggered the routine, the desk lamp lit up — and my dilemma was solved.

The takeaway here is this – if you set up a routine with the new person detection trigger and – for whatever reason – turn off the devices used in that routine (either manually or with an app), Alexa won’t turn them back on until you at least seven minutes gone.

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A bona fide motion sensor, like this one from Philips Hue, uses ultrasound to detect movement, so it can function in the dark.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Alexa is not actually a motion detector

Most motion sensors work with ultrasonic sound waves, which means they don’t rely on lighting conditions to detect motion. However, Alexa uses a camera and a computer processor to find out if someone is in the room or not, and that means the Echo Show has to see you before Alexa knows you’re there.

During my testing, Alexa almost never noticed when I entered a room unless it was bright enough to read at least a printed magazine. To me, that essentially made person-detection triggers useless for turning on nightlights, which is a huge drawback. If that’s your goal, you may need to consider special motion sensors.

Now that all that is out of the way, here’s how to set up and use person detection with Alexa routines:

Echo Show 8 2nd generation during thunderstorm

As long as there is at least a moderate amount of light in the room, the new Echo Show 8 can detect a person.

Dale Smith/CNET

Please check this setting first to enable Alexa’s person detection

I recently discovered a new Alexa setting called Home monitoring that changes you Echo Show’s webcam in a security camera (or something similar). Basically, Home Monitoring allows you to view your Alexa camera feed in real time without also sharing a selfie video, like during a video call. Whether you want to use such a feature or not, Home Monitoring also needs to be enabled for person detection to work. you can get the full overview of Home Monitoring here, but here’s what you need to do to enable person detection:

1. starting on the Echo Show Device yourself, swipe down from the top of the screen and tap Settings, scroll down and tap Camera.

2. Make sure the switch for Home monitoring is enabled and, if not, tap to do so.

Once you’ve enabled Home monitoring, in addition to appearing in the places you would expect, as below Echo & Alexa, your Alexa device will now appear in the Devices submenu of the Alexa app below Cameras (There you will also find the live video feed, for your information).

Start with a super simple Alexa routine like this one

Alexa person detection routine

Here’s a very simple Alexa routine in which person detection turns a light on.

Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

Before trying to create long, complicated automations based on person detection, I wanted to get a sense of how the feature worked using a dead simple routine. To that end, I plugged a small desk lamp into a smart plug and set it up to turn on when the Echo Show 8 detects a person. Here’s how to do it exactly like I did:

1. Open the Alexa app and tap the More menu in the lower right corner, then tap routine.

2. Press + (plus) sign in the top right corner, then tap Enter routine name (I named mine “Show 8 Motion On”) and tap The next when you’re done.

3. Crane When this happensand then tap Smart home and then tap the name of the Echo Show device you want to use for person detection.

4. The next screen shows two options: People are detected and People are not detected. For this routine, choose the first one and then tap The next. (We use the People are not detected option in the following example.

5. Crane Add action then scroll all the way down and tap Smart home. Crane All devices and scroll until you find the device you want to check with this routine (mine was “Desk lamp“) and tap it.

6. The next screen sets what that device does when this routine is run — in this case, the box next to next Power must be checked and the switch must be rotated Onand then tap The next.

7. Your routine should look something like the adjacent screenshot. Crane Save. The Alexa app will now check if you followed all the steps in the previous section to enable Home Monitoring — tap The next and Done.

Once you’ve mastered those steps, building a more complex routine with even more commands is literally a matter of repeating steps 5 and 6 as many times as necessary. What this won’t do, however, is turn the light (or whatever device you’ve turned on) back off. You’ll need another routine for that (it’s honestly as simple as this one).

What Turns On Must Be Turned Off: A Reverse Alexa Routine

Alexa person detection routine off

Here’s the opposite of the previous routine — this one turns off the lights when people are no longer detected.

Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

Setting up a routine to turn off a device when people aren’t detected is almost identical to the previous example for turning one on. Rather than copying all the previous steps, I’ll save both of us the trouble and just point out the three steps that are slightly different:

  • Step 2: To keep it neat and tidy I called this routine “Show 8 Movement Off.”
  • Step 4: Instead of People are detected, you will want to choose People are not detected.
  • Step 6: Leave the Power checkbox checked, but tap the switch to change it from.

If this isn’t your first Alexa Routines rodeo, you might be wondering why I didn’t combine these two routines into one. After all, Alexa has a Wait function, right?

While it is entirely possible to create one long routine to handle both on and off functions, given the trip I had with the unpublished 7 minute cooldown and the discovery that Alexa is effectively blind in the dark, I kept them separated for the sake of simplicity. Plus, it’s not uncommon to find that a routine has unintended consequences, and it’s a lot easier to isolate and correct them if you keep things separate this way.

In other words, I’m still testing this feature and will continue to do so for a while. I’ll be back to update this story if I really enjoy using person detection as a routine trigger and have something new to share.


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