Pages Navigation Menu

The blog of DataDiggers

Categories Navigation Menu

Cedars-Sinai puts Amazon Alexa in patient rooms as part of a pilot program

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Cedars-Sinai, healthcare, TC, virtual assistant, voice assistant | 0 comments

Los Angeles medical center Cedars-Sinai is currently piloting a program that places Amazon Echos in more than 100 patient rooms. The smart speakers use Aiva, a voice assistant platform for healthcare, and is intended to help patients communicate with their caregivers. Letting patients use Alexa to perform basic tasks like changing TV channels also frees up nurses to perform medical care.

Backed by Amazon’s Alexa Fund and the Google Assistant Investment Program, Aiva also participated in the Cedars-Sina accelerator program for healthcare startups. The platform also works with Google Home.

After a patient tells Alexa what they need, Aiva routes it to the right person’s mobile phone. For example, if someone needs medicine, their request goes to a registered nurse. If a response takes too long, Aiva reroutes the request “up the chain of command.”

Voice assistants are currently being tested in several capacities in healthcare. For example, voice assistants in Boston Children’s intensive care unit let nurses ask for administrative information, like who is the charge nurse on duty or how many beds are available in a ward. Boston Children’s also piloted voice-enabled versions of the checklist used to validate organs before transplant, with prompts to help reduce error. KidsMD, a program powered by Alexa, is meant to be used by parents at home to help them decide if their kids need to see a doctor.

Amazon still holds the top position in the smart speaker market, and likewise Alexa is currently the voice assistant most often used by hospitals, according to Healthcare IT News. So far, its devices have been used in Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Commonwealth Care Alliance, Northwell Health in New York, and Libertana Home Health in Los Angeles, in addition to Cedars-Sinai.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Amazon’s barely-transparent transparency report somehow gets more opaque

Posted by on Jan 31, 2019 in amazon alexa, Apps, computing, e-book, Government, Online Music Stores, Privacy, Publishing, reporter, world wide web | 0 comments

Amazon posted its bi-annual report Thursday detailing the number of government data demands it receives.

The numbers themselves are unremarkable, neither spiking nor falling in the second-half of last year compared to the first-half. The number of subpoenas, search warrants and other court orders totaled 1,736 for the duration, down slightly on the previous report. Amazon still doesn’t break out demands for Echo data, but does with its Amazon Web Services content — a total of 175 requests down from 253 requests.

But noticeably absent compared to earlier reports was how many requests the company received to remove data from its service.

In its first-half report, the retail and cloud giant said in among the other demands it gets that it may receive court orders that might demand Amazon “remove user content or accounts.” Amazon used to report the requests “separately” in its report.

Now it’s gone. Yet where freedom of speech and expression is more important than ever, it’s just not there any more — not even a zero.

We reached out to Amazon to ask why it took out removal requests, but not a peep back on why.

Amazon has long had a love-hate relationship with transparency reports. Known for its notorious secrecy — once telling a reporter, “off the record, no comment” — the company doesn’t like to talk when it doesn’t have to. In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures, most companies that weren’t disclosing their government data demands quickly started. Even though Amazon wasn’t directly affected by the surveillance scandal, it held out — because it could — but later buckled, becoming the last of the major tech giants to come out with a transparency report.

Even then, the effort Amazon put in was lackluster.

Unlike most other transparency reports, Amazon’s is limited to just two pages — most of which are dedicated to explaining what it does in response to each kind of demand, from subpoenas to search warrants and court orders. No graphics, no international breakdown and no announcement. It’s almost as if Amazon doesn’t want anyone to notice.

That hasn’t changed in years. Where most other companies have expanded their reports — Apple records account deletions, so does Facebook, and Microsoft, Twitter, Google and a bunch more — Amazon’s report has stayed the same.

And for no good reason except that Amazon just can. Now it’s getting even slimmer.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Kohler put Alexa in a toilet so Happy New Year

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Alexa, amazon alexa, Gadgets, Hardware, kohler, TC | 0 comments

Kohler, the company established in 1873 and best known for its plumbing products, has shown little restraint in the connected home era. The company debuted a connected appliance platform called Kohler Konnect at CES 2018, and the push continues this year.

Feast your eyes on the Kohler Numi 2.0.

This is an intelligent toilet that uses surround sound speakers and dynamic ambient lighting systems to hopefully immerse you in an environment so tranquil, so idyllic, that you actually forget you’re sitting on a toilet. The Numi 2.0 also comes with personalized cleansing and dryer functions as well as a heated seat. Plus, the Numi 2.0 also provides a little company in the form of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. (If Instagram isn’t enough.)

This is also the first year that Kohler is releasing an entire collection of products that work together on the Konnect platform. The Veil Lighted bathroom collection includes a freestanding bath, lighted mirror, and lighted three-piece vanity alongside the Numi toilet and an integrated lighting system, all powered by voice.

With the complete collection, users can create various ‘moods’ within the app, which will then be automatically conveyed via audio and lighting within the bathrooms based on the users’ own parameters. The Veil Lighted bathroom collection also comes with support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Kohler is also pledging to actually release a few of the items it hyped at CES 2018, including SmartFill technology on some of its bathtubs, and a voice-powered shower interface that allows customizable presets around sound, light, water and steam.

Still no word around pricing for these new smart bathroom products, but interested humans can check out the Kohler website. (Be forewarned: the website autoplays rather dramatic music.)


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

BMW’s Alexa integration gets it right

Posted by on Jul 29, 2018 in Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo Show, Artificial Intelligence, Assistant, Automotive, automotive industry, BMW, Dieter May, Google, munich, smart speakers, Speech Recognition, TC | 0 comments

BMW will in a few days start rolling out to many of its drivers support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. The fact that BWM is doing this doesn’t come as a surprise, given that it has long talked about its plans to bring Alexa — and potentially other personal assistants like Cortana and the Google Assistant — to its cars. Ahead of its official launch in Germany, Austria, the U.S. and U.K. (with other countries following at a later date), I went to Munich to take a look at what using Alexa in a BMW is all about.

As Dieter May, BMW’s senior VP for digital products told me earlier this year, the company has long held that in-car digital assistants have to be more than just an “Echo Dot in a cup holder,” meaning that they have to be deeply integrated into the experience and the rest of the technology in the car. And that’s exactly what BMW has done here — and it has done it really well.

What maybe surprised me the most was that we’re not just talking about the voice interface here. BMW is working directly with the Alexa team at Amazon to also integrate visual responses from Alexa. Using the tablet-like display you find above the center console of most new BMWs, the service doesn’t just read out the answer but also shows additional facts or graphs when warranted. That means Alexa in a BMW is a lot more like using an Echo Show than a Dot (though you’re obviously not going to be able to watch any videos on it).

In the demo I saw, in a 2015 BMW X5 that was specifically rigged to run Alexa ahead of the launch, the display would activate when you ask for weather information, for example, or for queries that returned information from a Wikipedia post.

What’s cool here is that the BMW team styled these responses using the same design language that also governs the company’s other in-car products. So if you see the weather forecast from Alexa, that’ll look exactly like the weather forecast from BMW’s own Connected Drive system. The only difference is the “Alexa” name at the top-left of the screen.

All of this sounds easy, but I’m sure it took a good bit of negotiation with Amazon to build a system like this, especially because there’s an important second part to this integration that’s quite unique. The queries, which you start by pushing the usual “talk” button in the car (in newer models, the Alexa wake word feature will also work), are first sent to BMW’s servers before they go to Amazon. BMW wants to keep control over the data and ensure its users’ privacy, so it added this proxy in the middle. That means there’s a bit of an extra lag in getting responses from Amazon, but the team is working hard on reducing this, and for many of the queries we tried during my demo, it was already negligible.

As the team told me, the first thing it had to build was a way to switch that can route your queries to the right service. The car, after all, already has a built-in speech recognition service that lets you set directions in the navigation system, for example. Now, it has to recognize that the speaker said “Alexa” at the beginning of the query, then route it to the Alexa service. The team also stressed that we’re talking about a very deep integration here. “We’re not just streaming everything through your smartphone or using some plug-and-play solution,” a BMW spokesperson noted.

“You get what you’d expect from BMW, a deep integration, and to do that, we use the technology we already have in the car, especially the built-in SIM card.”

One of the advantages of Alexa’s open ecosystem is its skills. Not every skill makes sense in the context of the car, and some could be outright distracting, so the team is curating a list of skills that you’ll be able to use in the car.

It’s no secret that BMW is also working with Microsoft (and many of its cloud services run on Azure). BMW argues that Alexa and Cortana have different strengths, though, with Cortana being about productivity and a connection to Office 365, for example. It’s easy to imagine a future where you could call up both Alexa and Cortana from your car — and that’s surely why BMW built its own system for routing voice commands and why it wants to have control over this process.

BMW tells me that it’ll look at how users will use the new service and tune it accordingly. Because a lot of the functionality runs in the cloud, updates are obviously easy and the team can rapidly release new features — just like any other software company.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by on Jul 9, 2018 in Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, Artificial Intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, Technology | 0 comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Amazon is bringing Alexa and Echo to France this month

Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Europe, France, Hardware | 0 comments

Amazon just got a step closer to world smart speaker domination. Starting today, users in France can pre-order the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Spot. The standard Echo and Echo Dot will start shipping to users next week. The display-equipped Echo Spot will arrive at some point next month.

Naturally, the expansion also includes a French version of Alexa. As the company notes, the Alexa Skills Kit rolled out in March to French developers and device makers to prep for the expansion and create skills focused on the new market. After all, tweaking a smart assistant for a new market requires more than just learning a new language.

There are also a dialect and local customs to contend with, in order to offer the best possible experience. The skills that devs have built will also arrive later this month.

France joins a rapidly growing list of countries with Alexa/Echo, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and Ireland. No word on availability for the rest of the Echo line. Google Home, meanwhile, has been available in France since last summer


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Alexa is arriving in Australia and New Zealand early next year

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Australia, AWS reinvent 2017, echo, Hardware, New Zealand | 0 comments

 One more bit of news out of tonight’s Alexa State of the Union Keynote at AWS Re:Invent in Vegas. Amazon is finally bringing its voice service to Oceania. After several months of rumblings, the company announced today that Alexa will be arriving in Australia and New Zealand at some unspecified point in early 2018. In the meantime, it’s opening up its tools for developers, in order… Read More
Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Amazon adds in-skill purchases to Alexa

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in Alexa, amazon alexa, aws 2017, AWS reinvent 2017, echo, Hardware, TC | 0 comments

 There was clearly a lot of ground to cover at tonight’s AWS re:Invent Alexa State of the Union — but lets be real, the most important bit was how the company plans to make a little money for its developers. After all, Amazon appears to be raking in the dough, with all of the Alexa devices it’s been selling ahead of the holidays, but what of the lowly developer? The most… Read More
Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More