Amazon’s Alexa Together Launches Today, Offers More Elderly Care Features

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First announced during Amazon’s fall hardware event, Alexa Together officially launches today, Tuesday, December 7. A new subscription service that extends the existing Alexa Care Hub, Alexa Together is designed to provide a minimally invasive way to use Amazon’s voice assistant and associated Echo speakers to both help and keep an eye on on an elderly loved one or other person in need of a caregiver. .

Almost since the launch of Alexa, industrious families have found ways to have the artificially intelligent assistant help them when it comes to caring for a loved one from a distance. Emailing an elderly family member to check their status and share Alexa accounts so they could see their activity have been simple – even inelegant – ways of knowing your family member is okay; especially useful if they are not always good at answering a phone call. But the system was not designed for this use case, which makes it somewhat invasive for the person being “watched”.

First with Care Hub and now with Alexa Together, Amazon has developed new features based on how its customers have integrated the Alexa Assistant into these use cases. The result is a product that could make the process of remote caring for an elderly loved one easier and ultimately more useful.

Alexa Together informs caregivers about the activities of their loved ones.
Image: Amazon

The new service costs $ 19.99 per month or $ 199 per year, and it replaces the existing Care Hub service – free. For these new fees, customers benefit from a professional monitoring service and more proactive features. A six-month free trial is available and all Care Hub customers receive one free year of Alexa Together.

The two most notable features of Alexa Together are urgent response and a fall detection capability. This adds 24/7 hands-free access to a professional emergency helpline, allowing the user to say “Alexa, call for help” to an Echo speaker and be connected with an agent. The agent can then request the dispatch of the police, fire department or an ambulance, and Alexa also sends a notification to the designated caregiver.

Fall detection requires third-party hardware. It currently works with devices from Assistive Technology Services (ATS) and Vayyar. Vayyar Care costs $ 250 and is a wall device from the makers of Vayyar Home. It’s exclusively for Alexa Together (although Vayyar also makes a standalone product) and uses sensors and radio waves to detect falls. ATS SkyAngelCare is a drop detection pendant that communicates over Wi-Fi with Alexa.

Both devices can be set to alert Alexa to ask the user if they want to call Urgent Response, a more proactive approach than waiting for the user to ask for help. Unlike similar devices on the market today, there is no ongoing subscription fee to use them, beyond the Alexa Together fee.

Care Hub activity feed and alerts are now part of Alexa Together. This lets a caregiver know the person is up and going about their day by providing an alert in the Alexa app once the monitored person first interacts with Alexa. It also works with other Alexa-enabled smart home devices to record activity, including smart lights, thermostats, and motion sensors.

This is a more privacy-friendly way to monitor someone, without the use of intrusive technologies, such as cameras, and without revealing exactly what they are doing. For example, the caregiver can see that there was an interaction but not exactly what it was. Another feature is that Alexa Together can alert a caregiver if there has been no activity at a certain time, so they can check in.

A new remote assistance option is also part of Alexa Together. This allows a caregiver to access a person’s Alexa account, with their permission, so they can help set up features remotely, such as setting up reminders, adding contacts to be able to call or send voicing messages, putting items on a shopping list, and linking music and video services. Finally, the ability to add multiple caregivers, which arrives early next year, is also a new option.

Amazon clearly plays an important role in the in-place aging market. Aging in Place is defined by the CDC as “the ability to live in one’s own home and in one’s own community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level. It’s something the smart home is a natural ally in, and a number of other Amazon products announced at the same event earlier this year have the potential to contribute in different ways.

The Ring Alarm Pro, which combines a home security system and an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system into one, could make it easier to set up a smart home in a parent’s home with just one device. Experts in this space cite a security system with fire, smoke and water leak monitoring capabilities as the most important tool to install in the home of an elderly loved one. And of course, for modern security systems, a strong internet connection is essential.

Sidewalk, Amazon’s little-talked about (at least recently) “neighborhood network” has two new partnerships with CareBand and Life360, both of which make products designed to know exactly where your loved ones are. Amazon announced that the two companies are producing devices that are compatible with Sidewalk.

The new Amazon Glow device – an interactive projector that lets loved ones play games and read books with children from a distance – is designed to keep grandparents connected with their grandchildren. Voice assistants in general are useful allies in the fight against loneliness, which is associated with higher death rates in the elderly.

Astro was once touted as being able to help you take your blood pressure.
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Finally, even Astro, Amazon’s rolling robot, was showcased at the event as being potentially capable of delivering a blood pressure cuff to a person at regular intervals. While the robot might seem like an unnecessary novelty at this point, the use cases for elderly care are probably the most compelling (if not fully realized).

Among the biggest tech companies, Amazon is leading the way here, but it’s not the first to give it a try. Best Buy launched Assured Living in 2017, offering a complete hardware and software solution for monitoring loved ones. It has since disappeared and Best Buy now promotes various gadgets sold in its stores that help with “active aging.”

There are many stand-alone devices that have attempted to impact the age-tech space. The LifePod is an Alexa-based proactive voice-activated speakerphone that does a lot of what Alexa Together has to offer. The GrandPad is a streamlined tablet designed to make technologies like video calling easier for the elderly. There is also a plethora of tools for managing medications, gadgets that can help with cooking safely, and devices that help you stay in touch with the outside world.

To date, however, smart home technology has largely failed to capture this market. Maybe because of the piecemeal approach, possibly because of the high costs of these gadgets and doubts about their long-term lifespan, and certainly because of the privacy concerns of the elderly customer. Any device considered to be spying on someone – whether with a camera or not – has a big hurdle to overcome.

But it is a real problem and a major moment for the smart home. The number of Americans over 65 will double from about 50 million to almost 100 million by 2060. By 2034, older people will outnumber children. Most people would rather stay in their homes as they get older than spend their savings on assisted living or nursing homes. Add to that the fact that there are over 53 million unpaid caregivers who devote a large portion of their lives to caring for elderly parents, and the calculations here make perfect sense.

Equipping an entire home with artificial intelligence-enabled smart devices, both from Amazon and others, can cost less than a year of home care or a month in a nursing home. Combined with the significant advances in telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the smart home could become a crucial part of how we care for our elderly loved ones today and, one day, ourselves.

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