While some people go camping to get away from it all and are happy to leave the online and digital worlds behind, staying connected is important if you’re a full-time RVer or need to keep in touch with work. Or maybe you just want to turn your unit into a smart RV.
So, is it possible to run Google Home or Alexa in your RV? It is, but will require some special equipment and set up. I’m goanna show you
how to get online, how to minimize the amount of data required and get your chosen virtual assistant up and running, as well as discuss some of the things you can do today and what is in store in the near future.
Using a virtual assistant can make your time away from home more enjoyable once you know the pitfalls and how to avoid them. There are 2 things that you need to do to get your RV setup to run your smart assistant. First, is to setup a USB power adapter in your rig to power your unit, then to get your smart speaker an internet connection.
There are a couple of ways to power your smart speaker. How you power your smart speaker is dependent on whether you are going to be on the move frequently or parked in your RV for long periods of time with shore power. I’ll cover both methods here. Let’s start with the easiest method, which is just to plug your smart speaker into a 110 volt ac power in your RV using the supplied cord and power adapter. The other method is to either install a USB power plug in your RV or just to plug a cigarette lighter adapter that converts 12 volts to 5 amp 2.1 volts. If you want to see how to install a power USB plug in your RV, check out the article here. For these two methods, you will need a USB to micro USB cord.
You will need one long enough to reach where you want to mount your smart speaker to your power source.
Before you can even begin to think about turning your unit into a smart RV, you need to be able to get online. Here's an in-depth article outlining the ways to get Wi-Fi access in your rig, including a few ways that it can be achieved for free!
Whether you choose one of the free solutions or go with a paid-for but more comprehensive setup, once you’re online, you can begin to look at using a virtual assistant. To have your assistant working with you all the time you’ll want to opt for a continuous data plan and get a hotspot device that can function while on the go.
The first step is figuring out which of the available technologies will work best for you and your family, Google or Amazon?
There are Several virtual assistants on the market, but two really stand out and are leading the pact. In this article, we’re going to focus on two of the most popular smart speakers to incorporate virtual assistant technology – Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.
Amazon came out with the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker, in 2015 with Alexa as the virtual assistant software built into it. Since inception, Alexa now shows up in a variety of devices from Amazon including the Echo, Dot, Plus, Spot, and Show.
The Original Echo came out at 9.25 inches tall and have since morphed into about 6 inches tall and comes in two colors. It’s currently in version 2 of the hardware. The audio from this device is designed to fill a room.
Then Came the Dot, this is the much scaled down version of the echo and only stands at 1.3 inches tall. The speaker is nothing like that of the echo. It really is designed to give you the power of Alexa in any room. Being small, it can seamlessly integrate into your décor without being intrusive. The Echo Dot’s small size means its speaker has some limitations – but since it can be paired with an external speaker, there are ways around that.
Followed by the announcement of the Plus, which is an improved audio quality of the echo. This device is designed for those who appreciate quality sound.
Then recently the Show appeared, which is Amazon’s smart speaker with a built in touch screen, now in the 2nd generation has a 10.1 inch touchscreen.
These are the devices from Amazon, other manufactures have integrated Alexa into their devices as well, which increases the selection of smart speakers that supports Alexa. Sonos, JBL, Riva and Bose are just a few out there and some will even support both Assistants, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, though not at the same time.
Depending on the size of your RV, the dot is probably sufficient or the Echo. Unless you desire higher quality sound, then you opt for the Plus.
The price of Amazon’s units varies – and great deals can be had on the annual Prime Day for Amazon Prime members. A visit to the Echo marketplace on Amazon all it takes to find the current deals and options.
Google Home has been available since it first launched in November 2016 in the USA. Google Assistant is the software that runs the hardware – the smart speaker. This powerful unit comes in a few different sizes from Google. (Mini, Home Nest Hub, and Max)
The Mini – it’s about the size of a donut – will allow you to use your voice to find answers, play your favorite tunes, make a call, dim the lights, start a TV show and more.
Home is about 4 inches in diameter and 6 inches high. Not as tall as the original Alexa. It has a little better handling of sounds for music than the mini and will do all the same things as it has the Google Assistant installed in it.
Google Nest Hub is the smart speaker with a built in touch screen and can display photos, maps, touch features for adjusting controls as well as integrates with cameras. The full list can be seen here.
The Google Home Max is a larger and more expensive unit. It’s sleek design means it won’t look out of place in your home or RV. And unlike the smaller Mini, and the original home, it comes with a speaker than performs well with audio when you are listening to music and demand a wider range of audio sounds.
The number of things that both virtual assistants can do is very extensive today. Remember that many of the integrations with smart speakers and devices have a long way to come yet. Though there are thousands of devices that currently integrate for your home, many more are just coming on the market for RVs.
Reviews of Alexa in the early days were lukewarm but Amazon has upped its game and made the virtual assistant more user friendly and increased its capabilities. According to PC Magazine, the third generation Echo Dot is a great entry unit into the world of smart homes – or RVs.
Alexa as well as Google Assistant allows you to create a series of things to do when you first wake up, are going to bed or at any time of day. Simply saying, “Alexa/Google, start my day,” will prompt the assistant to do the tasks you’ve asked for – for example, turn off the alarm, turn on the lights in the kitchen, turn on the coffee pot and start playing a morning wake up playlist from your music selections.
Conversely, saying, “Alexa/Google, good night,” can prompt it to turn off any lights or devices that are still on, lock the front door, turn on a fan or air conditioning unit and even say “Good night” back to you.
Maybe there’s a playlist you like to listen to while working out – simply create a playlist and then say, “Alexa/Google, play workout playlist” and off you go.
Here’s list of things Google Assistant can do for you
Here’ the list of things Amazon Alexa Can do for you
The extensive list of devices that you can control through voice commands is further enhanced with IFTTT (If This, then that) which increases the possibilities. IFTTT is a free website that allows someone to create a chain of events to occur if certain conditions are met. Ie. If the temperature reaches beyond a specified range, then turn on the fan or the A/C or the heater.
This is a tough one to answer as of right now. They both have their features that they are good at and some things that they are not as good at. For example, Google is naturally stronger at answering questions and answering follow up questions, more like having a conversation. Alexa is better at controlling more devices. The ideal situation would be able to have both on command. Though this is not a reality currently for something that you can purchase.
If you want a device with both assistants and you are technical enough, you could build one. Here’s the link if you wanted to build it yourself.
The competition for this space is getting competitive and the difference between the two leading assistants is narrowing, though I think Google will always have the upper hand for information due to the nature of it’s business in search. Plus, ITFFF and artificial intelligence in the back end, there are virtually endless possibilities along with your smart phone.
Once you’ve decided whether you want to use Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, the next step is choosing your hardware. If a small speaker will suffice or you’re new to the world of smart technology and virtual assistants, picking the Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot might be the right route to take.
You should also consider the size of your RV – do you have room for a larger smart speaker or do you need yours to hang out on a wall mount? Both the Mini and Dot can be placed in wall mounts, while the larger Max and Echo Plus take up counter space. In an RV, where every inch of space can be critical, this is an important consideration.
Where you’re going to be camping is also critical. If you’re always going to be hooked up to power, you don’t need to worry about what kind of power the unit you choose requires. If you plan to boondook, however, this becomes a consideration. Can the speaker you chose run on your RV’s 12-volt power source or do you need to step up the power up or step down the power to run your device? These things can all be accomplished but is really beyond the scope of this article.
The number of devices for your home is in the thousands, and increasing. The most common are smart plugs, TV’s, security camera’s, door bells, and locks. However your RV there is still a limit to the amount of devices on the market. Though I did find a few companies that have smart devices that can be controlled with your smart, phone but have yet to be connected to an assistant or be ITFFF compatible. When I inquired about this, they did indicate they were working on having this be compatible soon. So what can you control at this point?
There are a variety of smart plugs and extension cords, which can be used to give Alexa/google control over non-smart-enabled appliances. Essentially, these plugs allow you to control anything plugged into them using Alexa/google and your voice. It’s a cheap and cheerful way to turn your RV into a smart RV without having to purchase smart appliances.
If you have a ChromeCast or Amazon Fire Stick attached to your television, you can pair these with your smart speaker and control them with your voice. Lots of newer TVs are coming with build in assistants or controls for your assistant. You can also pair your Bluetooth RV stereo system to your smart speaker if it proves to not give you the kind of sound you want.
Having your outdoor lights controlled by your assistant could be helpful or having ITFFF control your lights based on the time of your given location when the sun goes down.
A smart door bell with a camera is good if you wanted to see who is outside of your RV before you answer the door, though I am not sure how many people come visit, unless you are parked for a long time and live out of your RV. For most people, this is just not something that would be useful.
For your home currently there are smart locks that work both assistants that can open the door for you when you arrive and lock it when you leave. Ok, I can see this one as being useful. You are gone for the day hiking and you have your smart phone with you and the door is automatically opened or locked when you leave.
Imagine having your RV monitor the weather for you and react based on what is going on. So it is sunny and beautiful outside, then suddenly a nasty windy rain storm rolls in, and you have gone into town to grab some supplies, much too far to get back in time to close everything up. You Weather Station, knows this and reacts to the changing conditions. It closes the Awing, closes the windows that are open and notifies you what just happened all on your smart phone and all controlled by your assistant.
Power Awnings are now standard on all new RV’s, but smart awnings controlled by your smart phone is just coming out. I would not expect it would be much longer before there is the integration with ITFFF and Alexa and Google.
These are just some of the devices available. Airstream has already been thinking about this, and how camping would look like into the near future. They even came out with a video about it. Check it out here.
When troubles arise with your virtual assistant smart speaker setup, getting it working again might prove to be difficult if you’re significantly off grid. But if you’ve got a strong Wi-Fi connection, help is usually only a few keystrokes away.
The most obvious places to go to for help are the developer’s websites. Both Google and Amazon have extension Help sections on their websites.
Can’t connect your Echo to Wi-Fi, there’s a help page for that from Amazon
Having trouble getting your Google Home to respond to your voice? There’s a help page for that, too from Google
Amazon also has a YouTube channel with videos on curing some of the issues users might come up against.
CNet has an excellent video on solving the four most common problems you might encounter with Alexa.
If you have a questionable Wi-Fi connection, that could be the source of your trouble and you’ll need to cure that issue first. Check our article on getting Wi-Fi set up in your RV and make sure you’ve followed all our tips and tricks.
So, what do you chose? We suggest that you read through online reviews of both virtual assistants and look at which services you want to be able to use in your RV. Your choice may be based on some of the hardware and services you already have.
If you’re a subscriber to Spotify for your music streaming service, for instance, Google Home might be your best choice if that’s what you’ll mainly be using the unit for. But if you use Amazon Music’s streaming system, go with the Echo.
Both Alexa and Google Home can understand multiple voices and allow for more than one member of your family to operate them. Only Alexa allows you to change the wake word; handy if you happen to have a family member named Alexa. The possible wake words are Alexa, Amazon, Computer and Echo. You can change the wake word through Settings on the app. On Google Home, you’re stuck with OK Google as the wake word.
According to PC Magazine, Amazon has done a better job than Google at developing its technology to work with third-party software. For instance, Alexa can integrate with a wider variety of smart home options than Google. While Google is now playing catch-up, if you really want to use a virtual assistant to operate your smart devices, Alexa might be the better choice.
There is so much a virtual assistant can do for you, both in your home and your RV. Alexa and Google can be activated remotely through the app to turn your lights and music on and off at your residence when you’re away from home.
There are some limitations to what you can ask Alexa to do remotely – for instance, Alexa can’t set a timer or alarm, but really, we can’t think of a reason why you would want to.
If controlling features of your RV simply by speaking is important to you, there’s no reason not to use Alexa or Google Home in your unit.
The technology is constantly changing and developing and it’s conceivable that you will one day be able to control everything in your RV with your voice.
You could use a virtual assistant to monitor your battery and solar power or propane levels. With a virtual assistant on the job, you’ll never run out of power or gas again. The potential for this technology is endless and the list of things a virtual assistant can do is being updated almost daily.
If you want to integrate with your home virtual assistant, pick your camp – Google Home or Alexa – and stick with the same one to make this integration as seamless as possible. Consider the space you have to give up to a smart speaker and whether you want to pair it with your RV’s stereo system, thermostat and lighting.
Do your research and pick the smart speaker and service that’s best for you. Then, ensure you have access to Wi-Fi and you’re pretty much good to go!