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Speak to us -- voice interfaces make the audible difference

Alexa made me write about voice.  We signed up early for this Amazon Echo home control/music library accessed through a Pringle can looking box.  True, it needs to be connected to broadband and yes, it needs to be plugged into a wall outlet. But it has no keyboard, only voice input through a lighted-ring of seven microphones listening, continuously learning speech patterns. What to ask this smart-aleck Alexa?  Well, it turns out, it can play an amazing ‘shuffle’ of music you may have purchased through Amazon, but if you are an Amazon Prime member ($99/year), it can also play any of a million songs.  And it has the ability to set up logic scripts (If This, Then That) – links between wake-up alarms and turning on the lights. Oh, and did you know that to encourage voice-tech adoption, Amazon is also launching a $100 million Alexa Fund?

Most new tech is annoying out of the box – this not quite as much. This product was surprisingly easy to set up as compared to my overpriced and rather touchy smartphone and endlessly patched laptop. Though set up of its Wifi connection is tricky – some Yetanothergeeky effort is required for that. But moving past that hassle factor, it seems to this ear that the delight of its user interface is in the no-touch voice-plus-brains – Siri in the kitchen without the phone.

Voice interfaces make the difference for these other startups. Which brings me to the several other very new entrants -- pre-launch and barely launched -- that want users to take their fingers off the keyboard and buttons – text is taken from the websites of or about the companies – at this writing it appears that all are at the pre-order stage:

  • Ally. "A simple, hands-free interface delivers reminders, messaging and automatic calling without the complexity of common smart devices. No forgotten panic buttons. No invasive cameras. One single device can alert you to falls, break-ins or fires – on an entire floor of a typical family home. Ally’s patent pending Wellness Mapping™ technology can predict future health problems like flu or cognitive impairments." Pre-order. Learn more at Ally.
  • Bloom. "Bloom is an always-on screen, a wearable band, and an app designed to work together to bridge the gap between generations and geographies. It works like this: the screen acts like a static appliance an older adult would set down in a room of his house, like the kitchen or living room. When the person wearing the band is close enough to see the display, a stream of recently captured photos appears on the screen, fed by family members using the Bloom app on their iOS or Android devices. Taken together, the system acts like a closed social network for families." Pre-order. Learn more at BloomCloser.
  • Onköl. "It's a stylish box that can monitor your loved one's wellbeing without being intrusive. It looks like a Swedish-designed radio or chest, lacking the kind of harsh lines that would make it appear more like a medical or security device. The system includes a set of sensors that are set-and-forget. They can detect when a door is opened or when someone gets out of bed. The unit can also communicate via Bluetooth or USB to any medical device that can handle it. Finally, the OnKöl has a phone input so it can monitor who is calling–important because there are so many phone scams targeting seniors." Pre-order.  Learn more at OnKöl.
  • UnaliWear. "Tech group UnaliWear has developed a watch that can help not only the physical safety and autonomy challenges associated with growing old, but also some of the dignity costs as well. Described as a “Wearable OnStar for Seniors,” their Kanega smart watch performs the usual functions of a timepiece —including a face that shows time, date and reminders in text large enough to read without glasses, with voice recognition that responds to a name the owner gives it, enabling voice-initiated requests for GPS directions."  Pre-order. Learn more at UnaliWear.


My future son-in-law has one and I play with it when I'm over there!  So far it is strictly a radio but who knows, maybe I'll get one, see if it has an easy calendar function so I can get rid of the white-board calendar that covers the refrigerator!  On second thought, my wife wouldn't like it. "Another toy that I can't figure out without you telling me how to use it - NO - stay with the white-board!"

November, 2016, the launch of Google Home -- voice-enabled smart home device that uses Google search


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