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Alexa routine FAQ


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Following the vast interest in Echo routines, I have prepared the following FAQ.
What are Alexa routines and how can I use them to make my ISY talk
    Motion or contact Sensors not found in the Alexa app
    • Sensors can be found in the Alexa app, under Smart Home | Devices.
    • Whenever you make changes to your spokens, please remember to have Alexa discover the devices. You can just ask "Alexa, discover my devices".
    • In the Alexa app, you can "Swipe down" to refresh the list of devices so it includes those newly discovered.
    • You should be able to view the status of the motion or contact sensor in real-time using the Alexa app.
    • If you do, your spoken is correctly configured and the discovery worked.
    When I create a routine, I click "When this happens" but I can't find my devices
    • When clicking "When this happens", you should see "Voice", "Schedule" and "Device".
    • If you don't see "Devices", make sure you see at least one sensor in Smart Home | Device. If you can see your device in the Alexa app, please wait a few hours. It appears that the option Routines | When this happens | Device is shown only if you do have sensors, and it may take a few hours to show.
    I can create a routine, but it does not get triggered
    • First make sure that the routine works. Click on the routine, then the 3 vertical dots on the upper right, and select "Play Routine". A common mistake is to have the wrong echo talk.
    • Try to delete the routine & re-create it. If you change the type of a device, let's say from motion sensor to contact sensor, and you have used it in a routine, the routine will stop working.
    • Disable the skill and re-enable it. Make sure to choose the "ISY Optimized for Smart Home V3". Some users are still using the V2 skill, and all of this will not work with V2.
    • Open the Admin console, and watch the device changing state. If you don't see it changing in the admin console, Alexa won't see that state change either. You may have a ZWave or Insteon network issue.

    Why is there is a delay before the routine is triggered

    • A delay of up to 30 seconds may be normal.
    • As per Amazon specifications, state changes cannot be more frequent than every 30 seconds. All of the contact and motion sensors state changes are debounced at an interval of 30 seconds.
    • Typically, if there was no activity on this device for the last 30 seconds or more, the change will be detected by Alexa within 1-2 seconds. But, if let's say a contact sensor goes from closed -> open -> closed in a short amount of time, the state will become open almost immediately, but will close after 30 seconds (if it was not re-opened in the mean time).
    When a routine turns off a scene, the scene temporarily turn on for a brief moment, then turns off
    • When you configure your scene to turn off in the routine, you have to specify a percentage. This percentage has to be < 50%.
    • Alexa wants to set the scene to that percentage before turning it off, and any value above 50% has the effect of turning on the scene.

    Can I ask Alexa the state of my sensor?

    • An Alexa contact sensor can be queried this way:
      • Alexa, is <device> opened?
      • Alexa, is <device> closed?
    • This works for ISY devices, ELK zones, or state variables.
    • If Alexa responds with an error message, please try a different spoken. Alexa is a bit picky on the spoken used, especially for querying the contact sensor.
    • For motion sensors, it seems that there is no way to query by voice. You can however query the state in the Alexa app.
    When I try to add a new Alexa sensor in ISY Portal, I get the error "This item already has a spoken"
    • An ISY Device can only be added once to the list.
    • If you want to have a device be exposed both as a light AND a sensor, so that you can trigger a routine, here's 2 ways:
    1. Method 1: Use a scene
      • Expose the device as a motion or contact sensor
      • Create a new scene in the Admin console, and expose it as a light.
      • The drawback to this method is that the scene does not have a state which can be queried in the Alexa app
    2. Method 2: Use a program + State Variable
      1. Expose the device as a light
      2. Create a state variable. We will have it follow the state of the device
      3. Create a program: If device is not off, set variable to 1, else set variable to 0
      4. Expose the state variable as a motion sensor. In this example, the motion detected value would be 1.
    On ISY Portal, when I want to add a variable, I get the error "Variables are not available"
    • This normally means that you have no state variables on your ISY.
    • Please open the Admin console, go to Programs | Variables | State, and create a variable
    • To be useful, you will also need programs that sets this variable as needed.
    My contact sensor shows as Open when it is in fact Close.
    • Normally, Contact sensors status will be "On" when the contact is closed, and Off when open.
    • Some contact sensors works the opposite way.
    • Here's how you can reverse the state:
      1. Create a state variable.
      2. Create a program: If contact is closed , set variable to 1, else set variable to 0
      3. Expose the state variable as a contact sensor and set the Contact closed value to 1.

    Testing with state variables

    Can I have routines speak to multiple echos?

    • When you create a routine, you can add an action "Alexa says". This works but for a single echo.
    • If you want to speak to multiple echos, one option you have is to send an announcement. 
      • In the routine Action, choose Messaging | Send announcement. You can then specify want to say, and to which echo.

    I added my Echo to an Alexa group. Now I get errors such as "a few things share that name, which one did you want?


    This post will be updated as we get additional questions.

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    • 1 month later...
    9 hours ago, glacier991 said:

    Thanks for this. I wish there was a way to only allow the routine to run during specified Windows of time, like during the night.

    The latest version of the app allows you to assign a schedule to routines and to snooze them for a time period.

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    • 3 weeks later...
    • 6 months later...

    I set up several Alexa speak routines and all were working fine for months until recently when I noticed I wasn't getting announcements. Started trouble shooting - When I change my Alexa speak variable in ISY the corresponding motion detector shows motion so ISY to Alexa communication is working and I can use Alexa spokens to change ISY devices. When I manually execute routines in the Alexa app the Echo announcements work. So I scratched my head for a while and on a whim I disabled a routine and reenabled it and it started working. I had to do this to all my Alexa speak routines although they were showing enabled. Any one else encounter this?

    Update: Worked for a while and now stopped again and nothing I try works, tried disabling/enabling ISY skill which seemed like a stretch because Alexa motion detectors are seeing motion when I change ISY variable. Seems routines are not running when motion status changes because I have a test routine when I say this, Alexa says that and it works fine. Ideas?

    Update2: Thought I would take Alexa speak out of the picture, so created a routine to turn on a light based on virtual motion detector and again virtual motion detector shows motion, but light doesn't turn on. Manually running the routine turns light on. I realize this is not an ISY problem since the portal is doing its job and turning on motion. Any ideas from the community? Since this thread hasn't seen activity in a while, tagging @bmercier 

    Update3: In case anyone cares or encounters the same problem. Tried Amazon support since that is where the problem occurs, said they turned it over to development, but no solution yet. I decided to try my wife's Alexa account since she also has access to the ISY portal skill and it worked fine in her account. So for now I recreated my 20 or so Alexa speak routines in her account and Alexa is chatty again. 


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    • 1 year later...

    Why was the ability to dim/brighten a scene via Alexa removed?  Can it be reinstated?  I need it for the situation where I have multiple lighting banks, each controlled by an insteon diming switch but I also want them to be able to act as a single area.  The scene works for off/on, but it also used to work for dim/brighten

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    • 3 months later...


    Thank you for this help.

    Maybe you would have an answer for me, in the routines, in the "when it happens" section the only option I have is to choose a motion sensor. However in the "do this action" section then there are all my insteon switches, my scenes etc.. How can i see my switches in the "When it happens" section?

    Thanks again :-)

    Dj BoomBoX

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    First establish each of your devices you would like to control in the ISY Portal - 

         1) log into the ISY Portal

         2) select connectivity - amazon echo

         3) Add device with a spoken command

    In Alexa app on your phone or alexa website

         1) In smart home section, devices tab - select discover on the bottom of the screen

         2) then you should see the devices in the the alexa routine "when it happens" section

    I hope that helps.

    Happy Sunday.

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    I don't do this regularly enough to know for sure, but I recall a possibility that alexa routines can only be triggered by ISY devices if they are sensors or variables.  If you want to trigger a routine from an insteon switch, you may have to create a method in the ISY to toggle a variable when the switch is toggled.  Then, trigger an alexa routine from the variable.

    FWIW, none of my switches or scenes show up as options in the "when this happens" dialog.

    Edit...I wonder if an insteon switch can be added to alexa as a sensor

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    Hello again,

    Thank you both.

    lgilsenberg, I have already done all this since as I mentioned I see my devices in the "do this action" section. But I still followed your advice and followed your procedure again, but without success.

    oberkc, I think you're right about the sensors because I tested all the "Alexa categories" using my dining room light by simulating that it was a switch, fan, motion detector etc. I'm sure you're right about the sensors. And the only ones that made my dining room light appear in the "when it happens" section was when I said it was a motion sensor or a contact sensor. Unfortunately I can't use these types for my light because anyway when you arrive in the routine, although it is detected, it gives me possible actions that are not compatible with my light, like what to do if a movement is detected.

    So I think I should resign myself to using variables. However, this is the area of my isy that I understand the least. It would have been great if switches and lights were accepted in the "when it happens" section. I hope an update will fix that.

    Thanks again for your help.


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    1 hour ago, djboombox said:

    So I think I should resign myself to using variables. However, this is the area of my isy that I understand the least.

    There are a lot of folks around here that are good with variables.  I recall that alexa is looking for a value of 1 = on, so it is pretty simple.  I think I use this technique in a couple of places.  You will pick it up quickly.

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    • 5 weeks later...

    Apparently problems continue...

    Thanks to difficulties sending texts (Google has decided my ISY is suddenly an unknown Windows computer and blocked it), I really would like to get Alexa routines working that are triggered by contact and motion sensors.

    The routines work when triggered manually. Alexa displays a change of state from the sensors on my Android Alexa app. I have deleted and re-added the sensors and the routines.

    There was talk on SmartThings of configuration difficulties causing this issue, as well as discussion on the Amazon Developers forum that involved several varieties of the change-of-state status and reporting calls. I reported the problem to Alexa Support (ha!) when I first tried to establish these routines without any apparent reaction.

    I have not tried creating variables to replicate the status of the sensors, so I do not know if Alexa routines work when triggered by a variable change. I would prefer not adding another layer of complexity as a Bandaid to a communication problem.

    Update: I did try a state variable as a contact sensor (with a 5-minute change duration). Still failed to trigger a routine.


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