New Alexa Care Hub Keeps a Remote Eye on Older Relatives
Amazon is offering a way for families concerned about the well-being of older relatives to use Alexa to keep an eye on them. The new Alexa Care Hub feature, unveiled during Amazon’s device and services event on Thursday, enables people in different households who mutually agree to connect Alexa accounts, designating one as an emergency contact and keeping them informed about their activity.
Once the two Alexa accounts are connected, the voice assistant will reach out to the emergency contact if the other person asks the voice assistant to call for help, even if they can’t reach their phone. The main purpose of the hub, however, is the customizable activity feed. Users can set it up to let them know when their family member first uses an Echo device during the day, what the activity is and what room they are in. It can also set an alert if they don’t use any device by a designated time, but all of the feed features can be adjusted or turned off as desired. The Care Hub also connects the two accounts so that one can use the drop in feature turning an Echo into an intercom as though they are in the same home. The point is to reassure people that their grandparents or other older loved ones who live alone are okay.The
There are a growing number of ways people can use voice assistants to monitor and improve the well-being of older people. That’s been especially true since the COVID-19 health crisis began and limited how much people travel and see each other in person. The Alexa Care Hub represents Amazon’s own foray, but there are already Alexa skills and voice apps on other platforms that work to similar ends. My Day for Seniors for instance sends regular updates on the health and safety of a user to whoever they choose, and added a daily coronavirus symptoms check as part of the update earlier this year. Retirement communities are also exprimenting with using voice assistants to kepp watch on residents and make it easier for residents to stay connected to each other and their families. Tech solutions for seniors developer K4Connect distributed more than 8,000 Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers to retirement communities with its K4Community software, while Google has given 1,000 Nest Hub Max smart displays to retirement communities in Washington State for that purpose and as a pilot program to test a simplified interface for seniors.
There also customized hardware that are designed for senior care, such as Pria, a voice-activated robotic companion with a smart display and pill dispenser and LifePod, a ‘proactive’ smart speaker whose voice assistant can begin conversations with its owner about health routines. On a more elaborate scale are mobile robots like temi or the cat-faced Mylo, which serve as caretakers while keeping loved ones informed about the user’s health. Researchers are only beginning to explore the value of smart speakers and smart displays in curbing loneliness. Still, studies by Project Zilver and Voice for Loneliness are already demonstrating how a voice assistant can not only aid families in watching over loved ones, but keep those older relatives engaged with the world.