TechnologyDr. Alexa will see you now: Health care comes to your smart speaker
Amazon is trying to make Alexa-enabled gadgets more fun
A variety of new Alexa-enabled gadgets, games and smart toys could soon flood the market thanks to Amazon's latest developer tool. On Thursday, the company detailed "Custom Interfaces," a new API within its Alexa Gadgets Toolkit SDK that allows developers to create interactions between Alexa and their own internet-connected products. Amazon is positioning Custom Interfaces primarily as a way for third-party manufacturers to leverage Alexa to create fun and quirky experiences. For example, Amazon envisions the manufacturer of a WiFi-enabled indoor basketball hoop using Custom Interfaces to create an experience in which Alexa chimes in anytime you score a basket.
Now that it’s upending the way you play music, cook, shop, hear the news and check the weather, the friendly voice emanating from your Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speaker is poised to wriggle its way into all things health care.
Amazon has big ambitions for its devices. It thinks Alexa, the virtual assistant inside them, could help doctors diagnose mental illness, autism, concussions and Parkinson’s disease. It even hopes Alexa will detect when you’re having a heart attack.
Bose's new portable speaker has Alexa, Google Assistant and 360 audio
Bose is expanding its smart speaker offerings with the aptly named Bose Portable Home Speaker, which includes Bluetooth connectivity, voice control and virtual assistant integration into a 7.5-inch by 4-inch package. The 2.3-pound speaker is made for on-the-go activities, with 12 hours of battery life, an IPX4 water-resistance rating and -- of course -- a handle. The Bose Portable Home Speaker pushes out 360-degree sound using one active driver, three passive radiators and a deflector. To offset the speaker's small size, Bose is using that deflector to focus its bass frequencies, which can be lacking in portable speakers that sport a small form factor.
At present, Alexa can perform a handful of health care-related tasks: “She” can track blood glucose levels, describe symptoms, access post-surgical care instructions, monitor home prescription deliveries and make same-day appointments at the nearest urgent care center.
Amazon has partnered with numerous health care companies, including several in California, to let consumers and employees use Alexa for health care purposes. Workers at Cigna Corp. can manage their health improvement goals and earn wellness incentives with Alexa. And Alexa helps people who use Omron Healthcare’s blood pressure monitor, HeartGuide, track their readings.
But a flood of new opportunities are emerging since Alexa won permission tocontrolled under the U.S. privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
iDevices' Alexa-powered smart light switch finally goes on sale
One of the problems with smart homes is the variety of different devices and software you need to automate different parts of your house. iDevice is aiming to simplify the smart home experience with the Instinct, a smart light switch with Alexa built-in that was announced last year and is now on sale. The idea is to save precious counter space in your kitchen and control your power, air conditioning and lights all from one location. The light switch doesn't require a separate Alexa device, so you could use it instead of an Echo or other smart speaker.
Before, Alexa had been limited to providing generic responses about medical conditions. Now that it can transmit private patient information, Amazon has extended its Alexa Skills Kit, the software development tools used to add functions. Soon, the virtual assistant will be able to send and receive individualized patient records, allowing health care companies to create services for consumers to use at home.
Amazon’s efforts in this domain are important because, with its 100 million smart devices in use worldwide, it could radically change the way consumers get health information and even treatment — and not just tech-savvy consumers. Analysts expectwill have smart speakers by 2022.
Some of Alexa’s new skills depend on a little-understood feature of the devices: They listen to every sound around them. They have to in order to be ready to respond to a request, like “Alexa, how many tablespoons in a half-pint?” or “Put carrots on the shopping list.”
iDevices Instinct Smart Light Switch: Features, pricing and how to buy
The smart home is in full swing, so iDevices has plans to release Instinct, a $99.99 light switch that has a built-in Alexa. This isn't just support for Alexa, but this smart light switch features a tiny speaker and two far-field microphones. © iDevicesEven better, the Instinct fits into a standard wall spot, but keep in mind that this isn't a plug and play solution. Installation is required. You'll need to remove your current switch, remove the gang box and disconnect the wires. Then you'll wire the Instinct, which fits into a standard electrical gang box.
University of Washington researchers recently published ain which they taught Alexa and two other devices — an iPhone 5s and a Samsung Galaxy S4 — to listen for so-called agonal breathing, the distinct gasping sounds that are an early warning sign in about half of all cardiac arrests. These devices correctly identified agonal breathing in 97% of instances, while registering a false positive only 0.2% of the time.
Earlier research had shown that a machine learning system could recognize cardiac arrest during 911 emergency calls more accurately and far faster than human dispatchers could.
Amazon, which declined to comment for this article, holds a patent on an acoustic technology that recognizes and could act on significant audio interruptions. Combined with patented technology from the University of Washington that differentiates coughs and sneezes from other background noises, for example, Alexa could discern when someone is ill and suggest solutions.
Because Amazon also holdsthrough an Alexa-enabled camera, Alexa could send vitals to a doctor’s office before you head to your appointment and continue to monitor your condition after you get home.
Amazon follows up its Alexa microwave with a new Alexa Smart Oven
Convection cooking, air fryer, food warmerLike the Alexa microwave, the Alexa Smart Oven doesn’t offer Echo hardware on board — there’s no microphone or speaker — but rather is controlled through a separate Alexa device.
“It opens possibilities to deliver care at a distance,” said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, lead investigator for several breast cancer prevention trials at the Mayo Clinic, which has been on the front lines of using voice assistants in health care. “Think about people living in small towns who aren’t always getting access to care and knowing when to get health care,” she said. “Could this be an opportunity, if someone had symptoms, to say, ‘It’s time for this to get checked out’?”
A growing number of clinics, hospitals, home health care providers and insurers have begun experimenting with products using Alexa:
, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup focused on managing chronic diseases, sells an Alexa-connected blood glucose monitor that can help diabetes patients track their condition.
Home health care providerHome Health, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., created an Alexa skill that lets elderly or frail residents connect with caregivers, set up reminders about medications, report their weight and blood pressure, and schedule appointments.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles put Amazon devices loaded with a plug-in calledinto more than 100 rooms to connect patients with staff and to provide hands-free television controls. Unlike a static call button, the voice-controlled device can tell nurses why a patient needs help and can then tell the patient the status of their request.
Echo Flex is an inexpensive way to put Alexa in any outlet
Not content with the rather larger number of Alexa devices already on the market, Amazon just announced the Echo Flex that plugs directly into the wall. Sort of like a Glade plugin. But instead of a pine fresh smell, it integrates into the growing Alexa universe. The Echo Flex starts at $24.99 and includes a USB pass-thru for charging your devices so you're not totally losing your outlet to the voice assistant. But Amazon has also created an API for that USB port. It gave early access to two developers that have created a motion sensor and a smart nightlight. The USB accessories will be $14.99 each.
Boston Children’s Hospital, which offered the first Alexa health care software with an educational tool called Kids MD, now uses Alexa tobetween a patient’s home and the hospital.
Many medical technology companies are tantalized by the possibilities offered by Alexa and similar technologies for an aging population. A wearable device could transmit information about falls or an uneven gait. Alexa could potentially combat loneliness. It is learning how to make conversation.
“Alexa can couple a practical interaction around health care with an interaction that can engage the patient, even delight the patient,” said elder care advocate Laurie Orlov.
It and other voice assistants might also help bring some relief to doctors and other medical practitioners whothat entering medical information into electronic health records is too time-consuming and detracts from effective interactions with patients.
This technology could work in the background to take notes on doctor-patient meetings, even suggesting possible treatments. Several startup companies are working on such applications.
One such company is, based in Redwood City, Calif., which bills itself as “Alexa for doctors.” Its artificial intelligence software listens in on interactions between doctors and patients to write up medical notes automatically.
Amazon devices will need to excel at conversational artificial intelligence, capable of relating an earlier phrase to a subsequent one, if it is to remain dominant in homes.
In a 2018on Amazon’s corporate blog, Rohit Prasad, a company vice president who is head scientist for Amazon Alexa, described Alexa’s anticipated evolution using “federated learning” that lets algorithms make themselves smarter by incorporating input from a wide variety of sources.
“With these advances, we will see Alexa become more contextually aware in how she recognizes, understands and responds to requests from users,” Prasad said.
Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
Amazon's new Alexa-enabled smart oven doubles as an air fryer .
Move over June, there's a new smart oven in town. On Wednesday, Amazon announced a new smart oven at its fall hardware event. Not to be confused with the AmazonBasics Microwave the company unveiled last year, the Amazon Smart Oven functions as a combination microwave, convection oven, air fryer and food warmer. Predictably, instead of using buttons to set cooking times -- though it comes with those too -- you can ask Alexa for help. If it'sPredictably, instead of using buttons to set cooking times -- though it comes with those too -- you can ask Alexa for help. If it's something common like popcorn, the smart oven comes with a variety of presets. When it's time to flip or stir food, the digital assistant will let you know.
Mercy Skill for Amazon Alexa
Alexa, start Mercy…” The Mercy Alexa Skill talks you through the steps to find a doctor near you and schedule an appointment using your Amazon Echo, Echo ...