New Assistive Technology Idea: Amazon Echo

Our family has had the Amazon Echo for about six months now.  For us, it’s a fun gadget that makes life easier.  We are able to tell “Alexa”, the personal assistant, to play our favorite music. When I’m rushing out door in the morning, Alexa will give me the news headlines and the weather.  I’ve been able to link the WeMo Insight Switch and smart plugs to the Echo so I can use my voice to turn lights on and off.  Although it’s fun for my family and me, for many individuals the Amazon Echo can be a mainstream device that is life changing.  And it keeps getting better.

The Amazon Echo as Assistive Technology

Using the Amazon Echo to turn lights and small appliances on and off can have great implications for those with physical limitations or risks for falling.  Imagine you walk into your house at night when it’s dark.  Your lights and light switch are on the other side of the room.  Walking in the pitch dark across the room certainly increases your risk of falling and potentially getting hurt.  Imagine being able to walk into your dark home and telling Alexa to turn on the light.  Now you can navigate the room being able to see where you are going.  You can still be active, but you can do it safely.

There are multiple apps that can easily be connected to the Echo, and the list is increasing rapidly.  The apps that connect to the Amazon Echo are called “skills”.  For those people who live by a digital calendar, Alexa has the ability to add items to your calendar or shopping list just by using your voice.  No hands required.  Although I haven’t used this “skill”, Capital One integrates with the Echo and Alexa can pay your bills for you.  Additionally, Alexa will read a book to you from Audible.  For someone who is visually impaired, has difficulty reading or whose eyes fatigue as night comes, this could be a valuable feature.  The Echo also connects to Nest and will control the thermostat so you can always be comfortable.

In March, Amazon announced additional devices that were added to the Echo family.  The Tap is a Bluetooth speaker and the Dot is a smaller version of the Echo.  Time will tell the popularity of these devices and the implications of them as an assistive device.  Going along with the ever changing world of automation, rumor has it Google is in the process of creating a competitor for the Amazon Echo.

I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful capability the Echo additionally has using If This Then That protocols.  The possibilities are endless.  Aside from the ability to add items to lists and calendars as mentioned earlier, Alexa can find your phone when it’s lost and change the colors of your lights when the timer is through. This could be quite helpful to those with a hearing impairment as they may not hear the audio but could be signaled by the lights.

What skill do you need Alexa to do for you?