All About Scenes
What’s a Scene?
Scenes are groups of actions that can be triggered with a single button press or voice command. Also known as “Routines” (Alexa) or “Macros” and perhaps by other names. This post describes the Scene making tools available in eRVin and the basics of how to use them.
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The lights in a scene can be either On or Off, or On at a particular brightness level. A typical Scene for our RV’s will usually involve lighting and shades but is not limited to those devices. For example, a ‘TV Time’ scene might – with one verbal command or button press – shut off all the task lighting, dim the mood lighting to your preferred levels, lower the shades in the living room, and turn on the TV and soundbar. A ‘Good Night’ scene might shut off all the lights, lower all the shades, dim your nightlights, lock the doors, turn on the alarm and set the appropriate thermostat temperature.
Note: currently eRVin doesn’t support all of those functions (like controlling the TV or thermostat) but it eventually will. And if your RV doesn’t have electric shades of course those won’t work either.
Available Scene Tools
In eRVin, there are actually two independent scene building tools. The first is native to the eRVin app and can be found under the ‘Scenes’ tab.
The second is for use with the Alexa app. It is accessed via the ‘More’ button at the bottom of the screen, then ‘Routines’.
Both are separate tools so are independent of each other and need to be configured separately.
Generally, if you have full time internet on your RV as well as an Echo (Alexa) device, Alexa voice commands will almost certainly be your preference because they are the fastest and most convenient way to initiate a scene (or any other command). You’ll use the Routines function within the Alexa app to build them. These Routines will be available for use via the Alexa app, from anywhere you have internet access.
If you do not have full time internet and an Echo device, then the native scene tool in eRVin is your only choice. However, even Alexa owners may still want to configure the scenes in the eRVin app which would be useful in the event of an Internet outage or other issues with Alexa. The eRVin scene tool will also work from anywhere there is internet access (see Installing Dataplicity). Because the scene code for the eRVin app is local, eRVin is also much faster at playing scenes than Alexa. eRVin will usually execute a scene in under a second, whereas Alexa with a slow or weak internet connection might take several seconds.
Building Scenes in eRVin
Within the eRVin app, the Scenes tab has a page titled “How to use Scene Builder” which has complete info on how to build a Scene. An expanded version of that info is repeated below. You also may find the video “eRVin Scene Builder Intro” to be useful.
The lights in a scene can be either on or off, or on at a particular brightness level. A scene can set your desired status of every light all at once, however sometimes it is undesirable for certain lights to be part of a particular scene, so there is an Exclusion option in Scene Builder which means no action is taken for that light. For example, a scene for All Inside Lights On should exclude doing anything to the outside lights.
- Scene Builder will automatically capture the current status (on, off, dim level) of all your lights from the network, so the first thing to do is create your scene manually by setting your lights to the desired on, off, or dim state. This can be done either via the eRVin Interior and Exterior tabs, your wall switches, or a combination of both.
- Once the lights are set exactly the way you want them, select the Scene Builder tab.
Note: If a list of devices is not displayed below Exclusion List, refresh the browser or select another tab and then re-select the Scenes tab until the checkboxes are visible.
- Now from the Select Scene dropdown, select the pre-configured name of the scene you want to use. Remember, as per Step 1 above you must have set your lights to the desired settings before selecting a scene name. When the scene name is selected it takes a snapshot of the status of all the lights and kicks off a 3 minute timeout to finish the remaining steps.
- Now in the Exclusion Checklist check the box for all devices you do NOT want to be controlled by the scene. For example, for All Inside Lights On you would check the boxes for all of the outside lights because for this scene you don’t want them to be changed from whatever state they may be in. Likewise, if you have set up Aquahot Control you want to exclude those buttons as well.
- After checking off the excluded devices, go ahead and click the Build Scene button at the bottom of the Exclusion List, the scene will now be created.
- Now the scene will play when you click the corresponding button in Scene Control.
eRVin Scene Builder Notes:
- In eRVin version 0.2 you cannot go back and modify a single light in a scene, you need to follow the steps above and rebuild all the lights in the scene. However that is really not a big deal, simply play the scene, then adjust the light you want to change, check off the desired items in the Exclusion List and click Build Scene and the changes will be saved.
- There are 16 pre-defined Scene buttons in the eRVin app. Ten of them are named with commonly used Scene names, the other six are named A-F. You can not change the Scene names via the eRVin app at this time, however it is possible to change them within Node-Red.
- As this is an early version of Scene Builder, it is far from perfect and enhancements are planned. Please submit any feedback, comments and suggestions in the Comments below.
Building Groups & Routines in Alexa
Before we get into Alexa Routines (scenes) let’s first discuss Alexa Groups because they are useful in their own right, but also can be helpful when building Routines (scenes). A group is just what it implies, for example a group of lights that can be operated simultaneously.
An example of a typical group might be “Accent Lights“. My RV has five separate and independently controlled Accent Lights (Living Room, Ceiling Accent, Mid Bath, Bedroom & Rear Bath). We usually turn all those on in the evening set to a low brightness level, and being the lazy person that I am, obviously I don’t want to walk around set them all manually. But, it’s also almost as cumbersome to give Alexa five separate voice commands to turn them on. Instead, I can just make a Group of all those lights and say “Alexa, dim the Accent Lights to 2%” and ALL of them react together! Much easier!
So now you might be thinking well that’s great but what’s the difference between a Group and a Routine (scene) then? I’m glad you asked! The difference is ALL the members of a group will be acted upon unilaterally, that is ALL items in a group must be either On, Off or at a certain dim level. With a Routine (scene), one light could be on, another off, yet others at various different dim levels. In addition, a Group would usually include just a single type of device (all lights for example), whereas a Scene could contain many different types of devices (lights, shades, locks, etc.)
Groups are faster to build than Routines (scenes), so if you just have a few lights you want to to turn on or off together, a Group would be the way to go.
An Alexa Group can be controlled by an Alexa Routine. That is very helpful when building a Routine because instead of putting in an entry for each light in the group, it can be done with just one entry. Unfortunately, even though a voice command can be given to a Group to set it’s brightness level, the current version of the Alexa app does not let you set a brightness level for a Group when incorporating it in a Routine, it can only be on or off. So, using the previous Accent Lights example, if you want any of them at a specific brightness level within a Routine, each of the five lights will need to be added to the Routine separately. If you only want them on or off in the Routine, only the group for Accent Lights needs to be added to the Routine.
Beside Accent Lights, other examples of Groups on my RV are:
- All Inside Lights
- All Outside Lights
- Awning Lights
- Bathroom Lights
- Ceiling Lights
- Side Lights
- Work Lights
So for example, Aquahot Burner and Aquahot Electric are in the Aquahot Group. If I say “Alexa, Turn on(off) the Aquahot”, both the Burner and Electric go on(off). If I just want the burner on I would say “Alexa, Turn on the Aquahot Burner”. Work Lights are the exterior lights I typically use when going outside at night to get something or check the wet bay and includes most of the exterior lights, less the Driver Side Awning Lights and Motion Lights. The rest are pretty self explanatory, you can have as many groups as you desire.
To create a Group in the Alexa app see this page for complete details. Basically the steps are as follows:
- Go to the menu, and select the Devices icon .
- Select the + icon, and then Add group.
- Use pre-set group names, or create your own, and then select Next.
- Select the devices you want to include and then Save.
Check out this link for the official Amazon help page. The steps below describe how to create a Routine in the Alexa app and are specific to eRVin:
- Go to the menu and select Routines.
- Select the + icon in the top right corner.
- Select When This Happens, and then choose how to trigger the Routine. For eRVin, normally you will select Voice, then at the When You Say… screen, type in the voice command you want to say to activate the routine. For example Dinnertime. Choose a name that’s intuitive and easy to say, don’t choose a name that is the same or similar to one already in use by either a Group or another Routine. Then click Next.
- Select Add action, and then to see the eRVin devices choose Smart Home. To control an individual light, click Lights. To control a Group, click Control Group. (Note you cannot set a bright/dim level for a group here).
- Click Next.
- Click the box next to Power and set the switch to what you want the light to do, either On or Off. (Note: Set to On even if you plan to dim the light).
- If present, click the box next to Brightness and set the level you desire. (Note: Alexa may allow you to set a brightness value for lights that are not dimmable, however it will have no affect. See the section below Alexa Spoken Commands, for more info on this topic).
- Click Next.
- Choose the next light or device you want to add to the Routine by clicking Add Action then return to step 4. Rinse and repeat.
- When you are done adding all the lights or other functions you want to your routine, click Save in the upper right hand corner.
- To modify a Routine, go to the Routines page, tap on the name of the routine you want to modify. Note that the blue arrow to the right of the Routine name, plays the routine.
- You are not limited to lights and shades in your routines, you can also have Alexa say something, play some music, stream some news or weather, or anything else Alexa can do.
- Admittedly building these routines can be tedious, but once its done you’ll wonder how you lived without it. If you want to build a new routine that’s similar to one you already have, go to the Routines page in the Alexa app and click the Routine name you want to duplicate. Now click the 3 dots in the upper right hand corner and select Copy Actions to New Routine. Give the Routine an appropriate name and modify it as desired.
All the lights and shades in eRVin have pre-defined Alexa names. You can see a list at the Alexa tab in the eRVin app. This is the name you would say to Alexa to control that particular light. Note the dimmable devices have a + in front of the name, non-dimmable devices are preceded by a – .
In regard to device names, Group names and Routine names, Alexa is pretty good at interpreting what you want and is not real picky about the exact phrasing, especially if you have kept your Routine and Group names verbally distinguishable and not too similar to any device names or some other Alexa command. ‘Watch TV’ is an example of one Routine I had problems with, it is too similar to something else in the Amazon Alexa realm and Alexa would often do something different than what I was intending. I simply changed the name of the Routine, to ‘TV Time’ and that fixed the problem.
In regard to how you give commands, there is a lot of flexibility, for example, the following commands all do the same thing (turn on the Accent Lights at a brightness level of 50%). Go ahead and experiment!
Alexa, set the Accent lights to 50 percent.
Alexa, dim the Accent lights to 50.
Alexa, turn on the Accent Lights to 50.
Alexa, brighten the Accent Lights to 50 percent.
If you have suggestions for Scene Builder or have new info to share about Alexa behavior or anything else, please leave a comment below.