Alexa and Aging: more on voice as THE interface for “SmartAging”

 Amazon Alexa & services it can trigger!

Amazon Echo & services it can trigger!

I predict every elderly person will soon have a personal home assistant, ready to respond to their every command.

However, that home health aide may not be human, but sit on the kitchen counter, and look suspiciously like Amazon’s breakthough IoT device, The Echo.

The late Mark Weiser, “the father of the Internet of Things,” famously predicted that “the best computer is a quiet, invisible servant,” and that’s certainly the potential with Echo, or the just announced Google Assistant (how sexy is that name? I like the fact it’s so impersonal. Let’s you fire one voice “assistant” and hire another without becoming personally attached, LOL), or the much-rumored Apple version, which might also include a camera (disclaimer: while I work part-time at an Apple Store, I ain’t privy to any inside dope, no way, no how).

That’s particularly the case when it comes to seniors, and my SmartAging vision of an IoT-based future for them combining Quantified Self health monitoring devices that can motivate seniors to improve their fitness levels, and smart home devices that can make it easier to manage their homes as they age, to avoid costly and soul-deadening institutionalization (or, even better, combining the two, as with one of my favorite IFTTT “recipes,”  programming your Jawbone to wake you gently at the best time in your sleep cycle, AND gradually turn on your Hue lights. How better for a senior — or anyone — to start their day on a positive note (OK, I know what you’re thinking: better turn on the coffee maker automatically!).

      KidsMD for Amazon Alexa

What really got me thinking about the advantages of a voice-activated future for seniors was a recent story about a similar app for the other end of the age spectrum, developed by our Children’s Hospital, for Alexa: KidsMD. What better for a harried mom or dad, with his or her hands full, AND a sick child to boot, than to simply ask for advice on temperature, fever and the like? That got me thinking that the same would apply to seniors as well, needing advice with some of the unwanted aspects of aging (I could mention here an example from a senior I care for, but that would be most unpleasant…). As I’ve said before, this would be helpful under any circumstances, but when the person needing help is a frail, tech-averse senior, it would be superb if s/he only had to speak a simple command or request to get needed help, or advice on something such as the proper amount of an over-the-counter drug to take.

There are tons of other life-improving reasons for such an approach for seniors, including:

Of course, and I can’t emphasize this enough, especially since seniors are already victims of so many scamming tricks, because these counter-top devices are always on, listening to you,  and because much of their possible use could be for reporting confidential health or financial data, privacy and security MUST be THE top priority in designing any kind of voice-activated app or device for seniors. Think of them as the canaries in the coal mine in this regard: protecting vulnerable seniors’ privacy and security should be the acid test of all voice-activated apps and devices for people of all ages.

Having said all that, as I noted in a piece last week about what a stunning combination of services Amazon has put together to become the dominant player in the retail IoT sector, one of those offerings is the $100 million Alexa fund to fuel advances in the voice-activated arena.  I’m ready to put their money where my mouth is  (LOL) in this regard, to design voice-activated devices and services for seniors.  If you’d like to partner, E-mail me!!

Industry Week Survey: Most Manufacturers Don’t Get IoT

A new Industry Week survey shows that most manufacturers are, at best, just testing the IoT waters, and few have made the management changes necessary that show they understand the IoT’s revolutionary potential to change every aspect of their products, manufacturing, and even their management.

 The Internet of Things: Finding the Path to ValueThe survey, “The Internet of Things: Finding the Path to Value,” (underwritten by SAS) was conducted late last year.  478 companies completed it.  The survey’s major finding was that:

Despite the fact that they’re already collecting such (i.e., IoT) data, and two- thirds believe the Internet of Things technology will be critical to their future success, only one third of manufacturers report that they have a specific IoT technology strategy.” (my emphasis)

One finding was particularly damning, because it shows senior management really doesn’t get the full value of IoT data and how it must radically alter their decision making:

“… two out of three say they rely more on management experience [than the IoT] when addressing key business issues.”

On the other hand, 28% said they think they’re outpacing their competitors in use of the IoT. Pardon my skepticism..

Here’s the finding that clearly indicated to me that these executives don’t get it that the vast amounts of data yielded by the IoT requires new analytical tools (HANA and its ilk) and new skill sets (i.e., data scientists): ”

It should come as no surprise … that well over half (57%) of manufacturers report that they are using spreadsheets to analyze sensor data.” (my emphasis)

Really?? Those guys gotta download the Managing the Internet of Things Revolution e-guide I wrote for SAP, which explained that the way to ease your way into the IoT is to begin by acquiring data mining and visualization tools and beefing up your cloud storage, which will benefit you with your current operations, as well as building the data analysis skills such as predictive analytics — and attitudes — necessary to capitalize on the IoT.  If you’re analyzing sensor data with spreadsheets, your priorities are totally out of wack…

On the positive side, 45% are integrating and supplementing IoT data regarding product quality, and 43% integrating production data.

I see little indication from the findings that most companies (a few, such as GE and Siemens, excepted) are fully integrating the IoT into day-to-day operations, resulting in what I’ve called “precision manufacturing.”

Long way to go, folks, long way to go…

 

Amazon Leads IoT With Comprehensive Services, Platform & Devices!

Several months ago I predicted that Amazon’s Echo might become the IoT’s killer device, primarily because it is voice activated. It appears that prediction is coming true, which should give the entire consumer IoT a boost because Amazon is also providing a soup-to-nuts approach of devices, platform, and storage meeting a wide range of IoT needs, which puts a real emphasis on customer ease of use.

 Amazon Flywheel

Amazon Flywheel

Even more exciting from my perspective, is that part of that success may be due to something I was unaware of that fits beautifully with my “circular enterprise ” vision of the IoT: Jeff Bezos’ back-of-the-envelope sketch when he founded the behemoth, of what he called the “Amazon Flywheel,” It’s as good an illustration as I can think of regarding my vision of circular organizations and strategy — not to mention their profitability!

Even the WSJ got on board with an article about Amazon in regard to the IoT, although it focused solely on Echo and its voice app, Alexa, and ignored the all-important mechanics that it also provides.

 Amazon IoT Button

Amazon IoT Button

The latest step in fleshing out the ecosystem was the announcement earlier this month of the AWS IoT Button, modeled on its highly successful DASH button, which allows ordering more than 100 different consumer products from Amazon by simply pressing the button (the “button” is also now also available in virtual form as a software service, so that a number of products, such as a Whirlpool smart washing machine, will determine that the owner is running low on detergent, and automatically send an alert to her phone. A simple touch on the phone triggers a refill order from Amazon). The 1st edition IoT button sold out instantly!

It joins a comprehensive, and growing, package of IoT devices and services from Amazon that I suspect will quickly make it the platform of choice for the consumer IoT:

You get the idea: this is a conplete solution, from platform to cloud storage to devices to highly-personal (voice) interface.


 

And there’s that matter of the Amazon Flywheel that I mentioned previously.  I came across it in researching this post, in a blog post by John Rossman in which he referred to the Flywheel as “a long-tested systems dynamic view of Amazon’s core retail and marketplace business” (music to my ears: it was exposure to Jay Forrester & Peter Senge’s work on systems dynamics that first got me interested in cyclical processes, back in the late ’80s). He explains how this continuous loop leads to dynamic growth, especially in Amazon’s infrastructure offerings:

“When thinking through an IoT solution, what is most obvious is the end device.  But this is the classic “tip of the iceberg” in creating an end-to-end solutions.  The IoT Value Chain is defined by devices, connectivity, big data, algorithms, actions, and connection to the rest of the enterprise.  As more and more IoT Devices get introduced, a greater amount of data (both big and small) is generated. This data, once integrated with algorithms create a greater overall customer IoT impact generating more demand for more devices. All of these devices and services can be hosted on AWS and utilize their infrastructure capabilities leading to greater growth of the infrastructure. At this point, the loop looks familiar: infrastructure growth leads to lower costs, which means more services and companies rely on the infrastructure locking into a cycle of higher customer impact.  Amazon Web Services has several existing IoT enabling products include AWS Redshift, AWS Kinesis, AWS Machine Learning and recent acquisition of 2lemetry show that the big bet for Amazon is not in creating devices for its retail business, but in providing cloud infrastructure and software to thousands of companies needing to build IoT devices and capabilities.  This is the AWS IoT flywheel and the real business in IoT for Amazon.”

Yeah, but the bucks that it will get from Dash orders and from Echo ain’t shabby either. Keep up that cyclical thinking, Mr. Bezos!

 

PS: this also makes me more and more confident that Echo and Alexis can be the key to the robust “SmartAging” approach that I visualize because its use of voice will help seniors, especially the tech-averse, manage their health AND their homes and allow them to age in place healthily! Gonna have to get me some partners to go after Alexa Fund backing…

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Connected Cow: another thing you couldn’t do until IoT

Posted on 2nd May 2016 in agriculture, Internet of Things

I love IoT apps and devices that allow us to increase the efficiency of existing products and services, but long-time readers may remember that I have a special fond spot for “what can you do now that you couldn’t do before” when it comes to the IoT. These are things such as the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children collaboration that allows treating preemies for infections a full day before any symptoms, or the way Tesla did a recall without anyone having to come to a dealer. More often than not, the

More often than not, they stem from the fact that the IoT for the first time allows us to cure what I call “Collective Blindness,” and learn about the inner workings of things that were simply impossible to observe in the past.

Here’s a new one in that category: Fujitsu’s “Connected Cow” technology.  Like the IBM researchers and docs who found that preemies’ heartbeats changed when they were developing the infection, ranchers observing data from cows wearing pedometers realized that the cows’ took more steps when they were in heat, allowing them to time artificial insemination for the precise time when the cows ovulated, resulting in higher fertilization rates. The “step count data [is sent] via the internet, analyzed in the cloud, and generates an email alert when there are signs of increased stepping.” It may be possible in the future to use the system to choose the calves gender.

It’s in use in Japan and South Korea, and is being tested in Poland, Turkey and Roumania.

 

 

 

Zoe: perhaps even better than Echo as IoT killer device?

Zoe smart home hub

I’ve raved before about Echo, Amazon’s increasingly versatile smart home hub, primarily because it is voice activated, and thus can be used by anyone, regardless of tech smarts — or whether their hands are full of stuff.  As I’ve mentioned, voice control makes it a natural for my “SmartAging” concept to help improve seniors’ health and allow them to manage their homes, because you don’t have to understand the underlying technology — just talk.

Now there’s a challenger on the horizon: start-up Zoe, which offers many of Echo’s uses, but with an important difference that’s increasingly relevant as IoT security and privacy challenges mount: your data will remain securely in your home. Or, as their slogan goes:

“So far, smart home meant high convenience, no privacy, or privacy, but no fun. We are empowering you to have both.”

You can still get in on Zoe’s Indegogo campaign with a $249 contribution, which will get you a hub and an extra “voice drop” to use in another room, or the base level, $169 for a single room. Looks kinda cool to me, especially with the easily changed “Art Covers” and backlight coloring (the Che Guevera one looks appropriate for a revolutionary product) …  The product will ship in late 2016.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Echo & will be getting mine soon, but there is that creepy factor given government officials’ fascination with the potential of tapping into smart home data as part of their surveillance. Remember what US Director of Intelligence James Clapper said, ““In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.” Consider then, that Echo sits there on your kitchen counter, potentially hacked and then hoovering up all of your kitchen chit-chat to relay directly to the spooks.  Wouldn’t you rather that data remained totally under your control?

In addition to storing the data on site rather than in the cloud, Zoe also touts that it has advanced voice-recognition so it can learn IFTTT-style “recipes,” or be operated by apps. She comes with 1,500 built-in voice commands, or, if you stump her, (and only if you choose to, preserving that in-house-only option) web-based Advanced Voice Recognition steps in, with a cloud-based voice recognition system. Her recognition capabilities will grow over time.. Zoe will work with WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and other standards.

The company will ship the developers’ kit in six months. It will be open source.

Not being cloud based will mean it loses to Echo on two important counts. For many people, the ability to order things from Amazon simply by speaking may be more important than security concerns,. Also, I notice it doesn’t mention any speakers, so it may be lacking the ability to also serve as a music source (obviously it wouldn’t work with Amazon Music or Apple Music if it isn’t cloud-connected, but it would at least be nice to be able to use it to play your own collection — advantage to Echo on that one.

At least this means there’s competition in the field (and, BTW, I’d love to see Apple swoop in and make THE voice-activated device!)


BTW: Thanks to good buddy Bob Weisberg for the tip about Zoe! Follow him!