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Amazon’s Alexa to Let Customers Avail Voice-Activated Virtual Care Programme

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By Associated Press | Updated: 1 March 2022

If there is no doctor in the house, Amazon’s Alexa will soon be able to summon one.

Amazon and telemedicine provider Teladoc Health are starting a voice-activated virtual care programme that lets customers get medical help without picking up their phones.

The service, for health issues that aren’t emergencies, will be available around the clock on Amazon’s Echo devices. Customers can tell the voice assistant Alexa that they want to talk to a doctor, and that will prompt a call back on the device from a Teladoc physician.

The programme, announced Monday, marks Amazon’s latest expansion into health care and another push by the retail giant into a form of care that grew rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Telehealth now is something that patients have gotten used to and may come to expect as an option for their care,” said Lori Uscher-Pines, a senior policy researcher with Rand. “(Before) the pandemic, there might not have been this much awareness that this was a service that was available.”

Amazon already dispenses prescription drugs and is expanding an Amazon Care programme it launched in 2019 that offers telemedicine visits with an option to send a care provider to the patient if they need an in-person visit.

The company’s latest health care expansion comes as several competitors including Walmart and the drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens also beef up their medical offerings. They are adding care clinics or virtual programs to make it easier for patients to find regular help in the fragmented US health care system.

Insurers and employers that pay medical bills are pushing for this as a way to improve health and cut down on hospital stays or other big medical expenses.

“Health care is a huge industry of enormous value, and it is ripe for disruption,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “And Amazon views itself as a disruptor.”

Some hospitals already use Alexa as a voice assistant in patient rooms. In Great Britain, Alexa works with that country’s National Health Service to help answer medical questions with advice from the country’s official website.

The service announced Monday will be available for customers who create an Alexa voice ID. After telling the voice assistant that they need to talk to a doctor, people will be connected to a Teladoc call center and then get a call back from a physician.

The calls are audio-only for now, but the companies say they expect to add video soon. In some cases, doctors will be able to prescribe medications.

Customers can get a call back the same day, but that may depend on the availability of doctors in the state where the patient is located, Teladoc spokesman Chris Savarese said. He noted that the ongoing pandemic may lead to longer wait times.

The cost for a visit can vary depend on the patient’s coverage. Without insurance, the calls will cost $75 (roughly Rs. 5,650).

Savarese said Amazon will not be able to access, record or store the content of the ensuing call.

Amazon is moving deeper into health care as other growth engines slow. In its most recent quarter, the Seattle-based company reported that its online retail business dropped 1 percent.

Kate McCarthy, senior research director at research firm Gartner, sees room for Amazon to expand beyond simple doctor calls. She noted that the company’s health care segment in its cloud computing division is aimed at coming up with new services and health care products.

McCarthy said she could see Amazon eventually helping to monitor patients that go home after a hospital stay, using Alexa and sensors to check how often they flush the toilet or open the refrigerator.

With its prescription services, Amazon hasn’t bit off meaningful share from its drugstore rivals, but McCarthy noted it could become a legitimate player.

“There isn’t one kind of magic market entrance,” she added “It will be a combination of things.”

Telemedicine in general grew rapidly when the pandemic first hit the United States and patients wanted to hunker down at home instead of visiting the doctor’s office.

Virtual visits have since leveled off a bit as office visits have widely resumed. But Uscher-Pines said research shows that patients remain interested.

Many want telemedicine available when they need its convenience, not as a replacement for in-person care.

“Most people don’t want that to cannibalize their in-person care,” she said. “They still want those options.”

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Amazon Working to Enable Alexa to Mimic Any Voice, Confirms Senior Vice President

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 June 2022

Amazon wants to give customers the chance to make Alexa, the company’s voice assistant, sound just like their grandmother — or anyone else. The online retailer is developing a system to let Alexa mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio, said Rohit Prasad, an Amazon Senior Vice President, at a conference the company held in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The goal is to “make the memories last” after “so many of us have lost someone we love” during the pandemic, Prasad said. Amazon declined to share when it would roll out such a feature.

The work wades into an area of technology that has garnered close scrutiny for potential benefits and abuses. For instance, Microsoft recently restricted which businesses could use its software to parrot voices. The goal is to help people with speech impairments or other problems but some worry it could also be used to propagate political deepfakes.

Amazon hopes the project will help Alexa become ubiquitous in shoppers’ lives. But public attention has already shifted elsewhere. At Alphabet’s Google, an engineer made the highly contested claim that a company chat bot had advanced to sentience. Another Amazon executive said on Tuesday that Alexa had 100 million customers globally, in line with figures the company has provided for device sales since January 2019.

Prasad said Amazon’s aim for Alexa is “generalisable intelligence,” or the ability to adapt to user environments and learn new concepts with little external input. He said that goal is “not to be confused with the all-knowing, all-capable, uber artificial general intelligence,” or AGI, which Alphabet’s DeepMind unit and Elon Musk-co-founded OpenAI are seeking.

Amazon shared its vision for companionship with Alexa at the conference. In a video segment, it portrayed a child who asked, “Alexa, can grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?”

A moment later, Alexa affirmed the command and changed her voice. She spoke soothingly, less robotically, ostensibly sounding like the individual’s grandmother in real life.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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LG Electronics to Enter Next-Gen Logistics Market, Set to Sign MoU Agreement With CJ Logistics

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By ANI | Updated: 16 June 2022

LG Electronics and CJ Logistics will enter the next-generation logistics robot market.

LG Electronics said it will sign an MOU agreement with CJ Logistics to jointly develop logistics robots at CJ’s TES Innovation Center in Dongtan, Gyeonggi-do on the 15th with Kim Kyung-hoon, head of TES Logistics Technology Institute, and Jang Ik-hwan, head of LG Electronics’ BS division, attending.

Under the agreement, the two companies will set optimised robot operation processes for each logistics hub, jointly develop order picking systems based on self-driving robots to find and classify products, and apply robot solutions to CJ Logistics warehouses.

Next month, LG Electronics will supply logistics robot solutions such as LG CLOi CarryBot, warehouse facility control solutions, and multiple robot control systems to CJ’s largest logistics centre Megahub Gonjiam.

It plans to expand the application in CJ’s other logistics centres.

The CLOi CarryBot is a logistics robot to loads a large number of products and transports them to their destination. It is a robot that evolved from an automated guided vehicle (AGV) to an autonomous mobile robot (AMR).

LG Electronics completed the verification of the CLOi CarryBot last month and conducted a test operation for proof of concept (POC) at the large logistics hub.

The global logistics and delivery robot market is currently growing fast. Japan’s Fuji Research Institute predicted that the related market size will reach KRW 11.5 trillion (roughly Rs. 693 crore) by 2025.

In addition to supplying logistics robots, LG Electronics will also focus on establishing logistics solutions for all logistics processes from order to last-mile delivery.

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Apple Aims to Thwart Unwanted AirTag Tracking With Tweaks

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 February 2022

Apple on Thursday announced updates to AirTag coin-sized tracking devices to prevent them from being used to secretly track people instead of just finding lost keys, wallets or other items.

Launched early last year, AirTag devices are designed to be affixed to things people tend to lose, synching wirelessly to iPhone models, iPad devices, or iPod Touch devices to signal where they can be found.

Reports quickly surfaced of AirTags being used for more unscrupulous ends, such as being secretly stuck on a car to later steal it or find out where the owner goes.

“We’ve become aware that individuals can receive unwanted tracking alerts for benign reasons, such as when borrowing someone’s keys with an AirTag attached,” Apple said in a post.

“We also have seen reports of bad actors attempting to misuse AirTag for malicious or criminal purposes.”

Apple said that it has been working with police and safety groups to stop misuse, which it maintained is rare.

Newer iPhone models will alert owners of an “unknown accessory detected” when they sense an unidentified AirTag in range.

AirTag software is being updated to display a warning the first time it is used, advising that tracking people without their consent is a crime in many locales and Apple will share the identities of owners with police when warranted.

Apple said it is working on enabling iPhone handsets to more precisely locate AirTag gadgets to help people find any planted without their consent.

“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property,” Apple said in the post.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products.”

Apple late last year released software so people with Android-powered smartphones can detect if an AirTag is nearby.

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Amazon Astro Robot With Rotating Screen Mounted on Wheels, Alexa Support Launched

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 September 2021

Amazon on Tuesday announced a household, canine-like robot called Astro and a deal with Walt Disney to imbue its voice-controlled tech in resort hotels, striving to make its virtual aide Alexa a bigger part of consumers’ lives.

The home robot is designed to take up tasks such as home monitoring, setting up routines and reminders, and can play music and TV shows while rolling around the house. The device, which has digital eyes on a rotating screen mounted on wheels, is available at an introductory invite-only price of $999.99 (roughly Rs. 74,190) and regular price of $1,449.99 (roughly Rs. 1.07 lakhs).

Among other launches in its latest lineup were a smart thermostat, smart display Echo Show 15, and a new health-tracking band called Halo View.
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The Echo Show 15 can be mounted on a wall and is powered with AZ2 Neural Edge, a processor that helps users personalise the screen.

In its push to appeal to the next generation of customers – kids – the company introduced Amazon Glow, a gadget for playing games, reading or drawing while on a video call.

In its partnership with Disney, it will launch an Alexa-powered voice assistant at Disney’s theme park hotels, along with a paid feature that lets customers interact with Disney characters at home.

The feature is expected to launch next year and will let users interact with Disney characters with the ‘Hey, Disney!’ voice command.

Amazon has launched a number of new gadgets every year, including sunglasses with voice control and an in-home drone, that have not become massive sellers.

Devices make up for a fraction of Amazon’s overall sales.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple AirTags Could Factor Into US Senate Antitrust Hearing

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 April 2021

Apple on Tuesday announced the launch of attachable AirTags to help users track lost items, and the devices could become the focus of a rival company’s challenge during a hearing before the US Senate on Wednesday.

When attached to keys and other items, the tags communicate with Apple devices to help users find the items if lost. They compete with Tile, a startup company that has sold a similar device for more than a decade and has testified to US lawmakers that Apple’s privacy practices have put Tile’s products at a disadvantage.

In a statement on Wednesday, Tile’s Chief Executive CJ Prober said lawmakers should examine Apple’s entry to the tracker tag product category at a US Senate committee hearing where Tile will testify.

“We welcome competition, as long as it is fair competition,” Prober said. “Unfortunately, given Apple’s well documented history of using its platform advantage to unfairly limit competition for its products, we’re skeptical.”

Apple said it had recently opened its iPhone’s systems to third-party tag trackers in ways that meet Apple’s privacy standards.

“We have worked from the very beginning of iPhone to help protect the privacy of users’ location data, giving them transparency and control over how all apps may access, and share their location,” Apple said in a statement.

“We have always embraced competition as the best way to drive great experiences for our customers, and we have worked hard to build a platform in iOS that enables third-party developers to thrive.”

Tile will testify this week before the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel headed by Senators Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic chair, and Mike Lee, its ranking Republican. The hearing will focus on competition concerns from developers who rely on Apple and Alphabet-owned Google’s app stores to reach consumers.

Apple and Google executives will testify as will executives from music streaming service Spotify and dating service Match, both of which have criticised Apple’s requirements to use its payments system and to pay commissions on sales from the App Store.

Tile’s concerns have centered on Apple’s privacy controls and restrictions and whether Tile has the same access to the iPhone’s hardware and systems as Apple’s own products.

In testimony last year, Tile said it had maintained a productive relationship with Apple, selling its products in Apple’s stores, but that the relationship rapidly deteriorated in 2019 when Apple announced it would enhance its FindMy app to work more like Tile.

Tile testified that Apple hired away one of its engineers around that time and also tightened up its privacy controls by adding more steps before third-party developers could access a user’s location data, which the Tile devices require to function. But to use Apple’s FindMy system, third-party developers face limits on how much data they can collect on customers. Tile argued that the extra steps put its products at a disadvantage to Apple’s own FindMy app.

In 2020, Apple began to open up the FindMy app to third-party developers. Last month, Apple opened the programme, saying that it would release a chip blueprint that third parties could use to take advantage of the iPhone’s hardware. Three companies have announced products that use Apple’s new system, including electric bike maker VanMoof and Chipolo, which makes an item tracker similar to Tile’s devices.

Tile has not said whether it plans to use Apple’s programme for third-party access to the FindMy app.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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