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How to set up motion-triggered smart lights as an Alexa routine

Automating your smart house with Alexa may seem daunting at first but you'll be a pro in no time.
david-gewirtz
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor on
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This routine makes it easy to see while in the hallway, but the dark blue doesn't screw up night vision.

Last year, I wrote a review of the beautiful Govee Lyra light bar, and showed that it can be paired with a motion sensor. But I didn't really go into much detail about how to do it, and how to think about setting up smart home triggers and actions.

In this article, we'll do just that. We'll use the Hue Motion Sensor as the sensor trigger, the Lyra light bar as the device that takes action, and Alexa as both a voice trigger and control mechanism.

1. Choose your devices

It's important to choose devices that will work with Alexa's routines. Routines are little mini-programs that control how smart devices behave.

Motion sensor: As a motion sensor, I chose the Hue Motion Sensor. I picked it because it was one of the few motion sensors that uses AAA batteries, which means the sensor should be able to run for about two years without changing batteries. I don't like having to change batteries regularly on my smart devices. I prefer to set them up and just let them run. One downside is that the Hue Motion Sensor requires the Hue Bridge, but since I already had one of those for my Hue bulbs, there wasn't any real barrier of entry.

Smart lights: My goal was to have lights go on and off in a particularly dark hallway. The Govee Lyra was perfect for fitting into a corner and lighting up the space with a pretty blue hue. So that's what I chose to use.

Alexa: We have Alexa devices all through the house and have built our smart home infrastructure on top of them. So it made sense that we'd use the Alexa routines feature to drive this application as well.

2. Set up on vendor-proprietary app

Almost every smart home vendor has some sort of proprietary app to control their offerings. In most cases, before you can have Alexa control a device, it first has to be controlled by the vendor's app. I'm not going to go into much detail about either Hue's app or Govee's, because each vendors' app differs.

The key thing to note is you need to make sure you get an account (because there's an internet component to this), install the app, and configure your device to be controlled by that app. In the Hue app, I named my motion sensor "Hall Motion Sensor".

Once you've verified that the device can be controlled by its vendor's app, you can move on to the next step.

3. Search for the device skills

Alexa skills are like little add-on plugins for Alexa. While some skills teach Alexa to fart (installed more than 116,000 times) or burp (installed more than 1,400 times), other skills help you order pizza or learn the elements. The skills we're interested in, though, are the ones provided by smart device vendors to control their devices.

To find a skill, open your Alexa app, press the More icon on the bottom of the page, then choose Skills & Games from the menu. After that, hit the magnifying glass icon to search for a skill. In my case, I searched for Hue. Repeat this step and the next for Govee (and any other lights that need to be controlled).

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4. Enable the device skills

Once you've searched and found the device vendor's skill, you'll want to link the skill. Most of the time, that involves hitting the Enable button and then logging in with the username and password you used when setting up an account with the vendor.

My Govee skill is already enabled in the Alexa app, as you can see in the screenshot below.

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5. Add a motion-sensor routine

This is the core of the process. If Alexa skills are like plugins, routines are like actions -- little scripts that interact with Alexa and the plugin-controlled devices. Vendors write the skills that drive the devices, but you can easily set up a routine by choosing options on a form.

We're going to start by opening the Alexa app, pressing the More icon at the bottom of the screen, and then tapping Routines. To add a new routine, tap the plus sign at the upper right of the screen.

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6. Name the routine

Below is the blank new routine screen. First, tap Enter routine name. We'll name ours Hallway Motion.

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7. Choose the trigger category

The trigger is the event that causes the routine to run. To define a trigger in Alexa, click When this happens on the routine screen. You'll see a whole bunch of categories. For our motion sensor, choose Smart Home. Smart Home controls most of the smart home devices. 

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8. Choose the trigger device

The Alexa app will present to you a list of devices that can act as triggers. These are the devices that were previously linked to Alexa as skills. In my case, I have three sensors, the Hue Motion Sensor, an Echo Show capable of detecting motion, and a temperature sensor named "Upstairs" because it's…wait for it…upstairs.

Let's click Hall Motion Sensor.

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9. Define the motion characteristics

This next screen gives us some options. First, we need to decide if we want the trigger to occur when it senses motion or when it doesn't. Since we want the light to go on when motion is sensed, we'll set When Motion Is… to Detected.

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10. Define the action device

Back at the New Routine screen, let's click Add Action. Once again, we'll see a set of categories. Most likely your action category list will be longer than your trigger category list. That's because there are more things that can be turned on and off in most houses than devices that send status updates.

In our case, we'll once again select Smart Home. As you can see, you can apply the action to all devices, just a light, to a group of lights, or to a scene. We just want to turn on a single light, so we'll choose Lights.

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11. Choose the light to turn on

All your smart lights will be presented by name. I'm going to choose Lyra and then tap Next. Here, I'm given the choice of what to set. I want to set the light to fully on, and make it blue.

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12. Save the routine

Once you've configured the light, hit Next, and you'll be back at the main routine screen. Hit Save, and you're done.

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13. Turning lights back off

Because that back hallway is very dark, we prefer to have the light on. That said, if we want to turn the light off, we can just say, "Alexa, turn off Lyra" and it goes off.

14. Customize and tweak

I also set up another routine, this time triggered by schedule, that turns off the Lyra about a half hour after sunrise. This is done by creating a new routine, setting "When this happens" to schedule, defining the time on the schedule form (sunrise and sunset are included), and then setting the Add Action to turning off the Lyra.

Once you get comfortable with routines, you can do all sorts of tweaks. We have a few other lights in the house that come on around sunset and turn off around sunrise. When I first started playing with routines, I set up Alexa to play "Here comes the sun" early in the morning to wake up by, but I found myself sleeping right through it. It was fun, but a regular old loud alarm sound works better for me.

So what about you? What routines have you set up? Let us know in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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