Could Amazon’s Alexa disrupt the telecare industry?
Amazon ‘Echo dot’ is now arond £50 and can connect to your mobile phone.
If you need help and can’t reach a phone, Amazon’s Alexa could be a lifeline.
Amazon’s hands-free devices are becoming more and more popular for disabled people who are finding them a boon for enhancing daily life, with an easy interface and voice control of music, books, information and web shopping. In homes up and down the country, people are using them for everything from ordering shopping online to checking the weather. And now they can call your friends and relatives when you want them, adding a new level of communication and if needed, support. Almost an Alexa telecare system!
Amazon has added a new function to Alexa to allow you to link your mobile phone and call a friend or relative. You can use it to phone or message anyone hands-free using the alexa family of devices including Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Show or the Alexa app on android smart phones or iphones, all with no extra cost.
Could Alexa supplement or replace telecare alarms for some people?
The Telecare industry provides peace of mind for people at home who may need help in an emergency and their families, traditionally using push button pendants worn on the body or pullcords installed in the house. The Alexa Echo system means you won’t even need to access those devices to make a call straight to your nearest and dearest, so could provide competition.
On the plus side, there are no buttons to be pushed or cords to be pulled. Only your voice is needed to activate Alexa and get your call made or message sent to your friends or relatives. All they need to do is download the free app onto their phones, and they can be reached instantly whenever you want. It does mean they will need their phones on and charged at all times. It also means that you need to be in voice range of an alexa device and able to call out. You could buy the smaller echo dot (at £50) and put them in each room. There is a voice operated controller that could also be carried.
And it’s not just in an emergency that you can make a call. Alexa will let you stay in touch all the time, with a hands-free calling and messaging system. this could be very useful for people who struggle with the buttons on phones or understanding how to use smart phones. Alexa will let also let you know when someone is calling you and the light ring will pulse green on newer Echo devices. You ask Alexa to answer or ignore the call.
“Drop in” : remote listening by others to your room!
There is also a feature called Drop In that allows selected family and friends to automatically call in to your device and listen to anything happening in range. This has privacy issues but could also be very reassuring to family and can be completely controlled by the owner of the device.
Disadvantages of Alexa as a telecare device
On the other hand, Alexa’s benefits are offset by the lack of 24-hour monitoring and support from call centres that are provided by a local Council services or private companies and the device could be affected by power cuts, whereas telecare systems are protected with back-up batteries.
Alarms needn’t be stigmatising but some people may feel that way. Image from https://www.telecarechoice.co.uk/ who are a private telecare provider
Then there is the issue of cost. Alexa costs £50 for the smaller ‘echo dot’ system but as mentioned above, you may need more than one to provide coverage- and while it offers a whole lot more than just telecare of course, it could be a big cost to pay upfront, compared to the smaller weekly charge, (around £5 or less), for traditional telecare devices.
However, some people may be reluctant to have telecare installed because of the stigma issues of pendants and monitoring. ‘Alexa telecare’ may be much more appealing to younger people or as a stepping stone to more traditional telecare if it becomes needed or as a supplement to offer more options and a ‘less formal’ call for help.
So what else can it offer? Alexa brings a whole world of communication, including downloadable quizzes, podcasts and music from Amazon. You can listen to the news, find out about the weather and “check in” with friends and relatives – as well as order anything online from mail order giants Amazon.
For some it might be a good way to supplement your existing emergency telecare needs; for others, it could even replace it altogether. But it’s worth investigating the device before you make an investment in it.
The Amazon Echo brings the digital assistant that most people have in their smartphones to their home and it makes a wide range of useful actions and activities much easier than before. From the perspective of disability, the Amazon Echo opens a whole new world of opportunities and can in fact may some day-to-day activities much more affordable than before. The devices and gadgets designed specifically for assistive and adaptive use are always expensive, but the Amazon Echo offers an affordable, versatile alternative.
The Amazon Echo or the newer version, the Echo Dot is a small yet effective device for managing your home and your lifestyle. It is voice activated and designed to do practically anything you can ask. To activate the Echo you need to activate Alexa, and sentences starting with ‘Alexa’ are instantly picked up by the clever device. From ordering groceries (from Amazon) to playing music and audiobooks, the Echo has many basic functions but it can be used in many more effective and potentially life changing ways too.
Amazon Echo and Environmental Controls
The newer Amazon Echo Dot
Living with disabilities may mean you have many adapted accessories and gadgets in your home. Very expensive gadgets have been created for individual tasks such as opening the curtains. Instead of investing in these Environmental Control devices, the Echo has the ability to connect with The Internet of Things.
Certain devices pair up with the Amazon Echo with ease and the list of items which pair is growing by the day. You can team the Echo with Philips Hue lights, the Nest thermostat and other household items such as specific brands of Wi-Fi speaker. In fact, if you fit a Wi-Fi-enabled switchbox, or get someone to do it for you, you can control any electrical device in your home.
It isn’t a replacement for a smartphone or computer but it can handle many everyday tasks and it becomes smarter by the day as developers look for new ways to make more from it.
Amazon Echo Skills
To further enhance your Echo experience, the creators regularly launch new ‘Skills’ for Alexa. These skills are like mini apps which allow you to give even more abilities to Alexa. Skills such as ‘the National Rail skill’ will let you plan journeys and find out about any rail delays. There are hundreds of Skills to explore which can again, make life easier and planning getting out and about less of a struggle.
Amazon Echo and Your Voice
There have been concerns over whether the Amazon Echo may struggle with artificial voices and synthetic speech but tests so far suggest Alexa has no problem understanding most commands from most voices. Using a communication aid should not limit what anyone can do with their Echo.
Affordable, Universal Design
The Amazon Echo offers an affordable alternative to the expensive assistive technologies usually available. It may not have been designed with disabled people in mind but the Amazon Echo is highly versatile and can bring real independence and ease to many people’s lives. Like the iPad it may be another disruptive technology that shakes up established healthcare companies that have been creating environmental control systems.
This video review gives a good overview of what the Echo can do and how it can become a key accessory in your home: