Last week, Mark Pallone of AppMyHome.com, spoke at my Successful Aging Talks at Springfield. Formerly with Intel, Mark has been researching, experimenting and reporting on the smart home for several years. He took us through his journey outfitting his home with all the bells and whistles, which does not save money but certainly can make life easier. His phone controls lighting, temperature, security, and safety in his home. Mark regularly posts about new products on his Facebook page. Check out his YouTube videos from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The Amazon Echo (which we call “Alexa” because that’s the word you use to turn it on) is one platform that has so many possibilities. As Mark mentioned, companies have to connect with the system if they want to sell smart objects now. Google Home is also very popular and according to PC Magazine, it understands you a little better because Alexa is “a stickler for wording.”
Alexa and the connected objects can be a Godsend for people with disabilities. I think of my 100-year-old friend Jean, who had lost most of her eyesight to macular degeneration. Her final years would have been enhanced by having Alexa in her room at the assisted living. She relied on music to keep her company in the darkness. Her CD player had to be turned on and off by caregivers who weren’t always available. She also liked to listen to books on tape which involved another player that was difficult to use. Alexa would have made that so much easier and she could have controlled it herself.
Research is being conducted on how Alexa can help families caring for someone with dementia. A caregiver can use music or questions as a distraction while trying to accomplish another task. You can ask Alexa the time, date, weather and news over and over again. It can also keep track of shopping lists, appointments, medication reminders, alarms, and to-do lists.
It is possible to call a contact using only your voice with the Echo, if you need help and can’t get to a phone. You need to set it up very carefully but it can be an extra level of security for family members. When you want to use the calling feature, you have to upload your contacts. The trick might be to have a separate email account for Amazon with only a couple of contacts.
Our house has an Echo in most rooms and connected lights in each room. The front porch and living room are on timers but can be voice-controlled. Our Christmas lights were voice-controlled during the holidays. We also have the Ring doorbell which has a video camera and speaker. One luxury item is the hot water re-circulator that moves the hot water from the tank so we don’t have to waste 3 gallons waiting for it to arrive in the bathroom. We just say, “Alexa, turn on water.”
Having a smart home is fun and useful but you need to keep everything going. A router update destroyed our connectivity and every item had to be reinstalled to the system. However, if I were laid up with an injury or illness, there are a lot of things I could do without getting up and that could be very valuable.