Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service and voice assistants in general have been a subject of interest for many of our clients looking to explore how they could extend their brand and the usefulness of their products or solutions with voice interaction. While exploring this possibility with one such client, they proposed a concept that would use Alexa to help the elderly and people with chronic illnesses live more independent lives. Out of this idea sprung LifePod, an Alexa voice-enabled device that acts as a virtual caregiver and digital assistant.
LifePod automatically generates reminders, daily routines, checks in on users and provides updates to loved ones while keeping the user stimulated throughout the day with random events like singing songs, quizzes and telling jokes or stories. LifePod is Semi-Autonomous and works without any Alexa wake words or Alexa Skill invocation names.
LifePod is one of three product concepts we have been working on with Transcendent Technologies. As they are looking to license the product concept, it was important for them to bring three ideas to life quickly and efficiently. This made them a perfect fit for the Macadamian IoT JumpStart Kit. Launching the product from the kit allowed us to deliver a pre-commercial LifePod prototype that demonstrates the core functionality along with two other product variants in two months.
How Does It Work?
LifePod utilizes the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) and Alexa Skills Kit while extending Alexa in two unique and proprietary ways:
- It allows her to start a conversation without wake words: Good morning John, it is time to take your pills. Did you take them?
- It automates routines with a sequence of commands either automatically at a pre-programmed time or from a single voice command: Turn on the lights, open the blinds, say the time of day, date, weather, start playing music.
This ability to start a conversation, and automate a sequence of commands unlocks a rich set of new capabilities:
- Daily routines: LifePod can have five daily routines (Wake-up, morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime) that can be customized to the needs of the user with functions like initiating home automation actions.
- Periodic check-ins: Between the first and last routine of the day, LifePod can check-in with the end-user to ensure they are doing ok.
- Voice reminders: Configured voice reminders can be set at specific times to remind end-users of tasks based on their own personal needs, like taking their pills, brushing their teeth, or special events like a doctor’s appointment.
- Give a sense of companionship: Research has shown that elderly users have a need for companionship and social inclusion. To help fill that need, LifePod can trigger a randomized set of actions that Alexa already supports such as reading an audiobook, saying the word of the day, asking trivia questions, or telling them a fun fact.
- Stay in touch: Based on the interactions between Alexa and the user, LifePod can automatically send alerts and daily reports. For example, if the user falls or has an emergency or does not confirm they took their pills or failed to answer a check-in after a configured number of retries, then an SMS can be automatically sent to a caregiver or a family member.
Integrating other devices
We leveraged Alexa and the rich home automation ecosystem that it supports to extend the LifePod functionality in a meaningful way without re-inventing the wheel. We took this opportunity to explore what other devices could be hooked into LifePod to extend its usefulness. We integrated the LifePod with:
- Amazon Dash button: Using a Wi-Fi connected button like the AWS IoT Button, we can extend the capability of LifePod to provide either an emergency alert necklace or place one next to the pillbox to confirm that the user took their pills. Companion devices like a connected pill box could also be created to track when users opened a compartment.
- Fire alarm: A smoke and CO detector is also planned to be incorporated into the device to further increase the safety of the user, and alert the caregiver if an alarm is triggered.
- Phone calls: As LifePod can tap into the increasingly valuable set of existing Alexa Skills, scenarios like automatically initiating a phone call using Ooma when the end-user needs help can be easily supported.
With the breadth of connected devices only increasing, the potential for further integrations seems endless. LifePod could be integrated with personal hygiene devices like connected toothbrushes, or motion detectors to better track the actions of the user and increase their safety or further assist them in the home. It could also integrate with medical devices like blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, or sleep trackers to track the user’s health in correlation to the other data and include it in the daily reports, or use it to trigger alerts.
Originally published at www.macadamian.com on November 9, 2016.