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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

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The NYT gets into voice with 5 new Alexa skills, including a daily briefing, quiz and more

Posted by on Jan 11, 2019 in Alexa, Amazon Echo, Hardware, Media, TC, The New York Times | 0 comments

The New York Times is expanding its efforts around audio programming and voice assistants, the company announced today. The NYT says it’s launching a daily flash briefing for Alexa devices, as well as an interactive news quiz, and — in an interesting twist — it will be introducing “enhanced coverage” in its Sunday paper that prompts readers to launch dedicated Alexa skills to learn more about the stories they’re reading.

On weekdays, the Times will offer a short news briefing for Alexa devices that’s hosted by Michael Barbaro of The NYT’s popular podcast, “The Daily.” Listeners can enable the Alexa skill, then ask to hear the top stories by saying “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing,” or “Alexa, what’s in the news?,” for example.

For now, the flash briefing consists of the last portion of “The Daily,” where Barbaro says “Here’s what else you need to know today.” Over time, the company plans to expand upon that with new stories and sound bites.

Also new today is a daily news quiz, created by “The Daily’s” producers. This will be available on Fridays, and is triggered by saying “Alexa, play The New York Times News Quiz.”

The quiz will ask questions that listeners answer to then be told if they are right or wrong. The skill will provide additional context, as well.

While daily briefing skills and quizzes are among the most popular types of Alexa skills today, the way the paper is experimenting with its Sunday paper contest is interesting.

Skill discovery is still a huge challenge on voice assistants. And even when you enable a skill, you may forget to use it or not remember what it’s called, if it’s not something you launch regularly.

The NYT’s solution is to add Alexa prompts to its printed edition of the Sunday paper, for select sections including travel, music and books.

Starting this weekend, a special section will feature Travel’s annual list of 52 Places to Go. Readers can choose to listen to the Times’s new “Traveler” writer Sebastian Modak, as he visits all the places on the list, by saying, “Alexa, open the 52 Places Traveler.”

In addition, a command to “open The Pop Music Roundup” will offer a voice round-up from Times pop music editor Caryn Ganz, while saying “Alexa, get book recommendations from The New York Times” will trigger Alexa to tell you what the paper’s book critics are reading and recommend.

All three of these Alexa skills will continue beyond this weekend and will include fresh content.

“We’ve only just begun to explore the ways that voice technology can bring Times journalism to our audience, where and how they want it,” said Monica Drake, assistant managing editor, The New York Times, in a statement about the Alexa skills. “This project is a great starting point in this effort as we begin to experiment the ways voice can work in conjunction with stayed mediums like print while also exploring native Times experiences like the flash briefing and interactive news quiz, built specifically for voice services,” she added.

The NYT already offered some of its news through Alexa and other voice assistants prior to today, as its podcast “The Daily” has been available across platforms. But this is the first time it has rolled out dedicated Alexa skills like this.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple Music is coming to the Amazon Echo

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Amazon, Amazon Echo, Apple, apple music, echo, Entertainment, Hardware | 0 comments

Starting mid-December, Amazon Echo devices will be able to stream songs from Apple Music. A bit of a surprise, perhaps, given that Apple’s been a competitor in the space since launching the HomePod back in 2017.

Amazon’s had its own music service for some time, as well, but the company appears to have given up on the dream of being a serious competitor in the space — for now, at least. Instead, Echo smart speakers offer native support for a decent cross-section of streaming services, including Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

The new skill lets users play specifics songs, genres, playlists and the Beats 1 station through the smart speakers. Adding Apple Music will help the popular smart home products tap into a rapidly growing service.

The company cracked 50 million subscribers earlier this year. That’s still well behind the 83 million paid subscribers Spotify announced back in July, but this addition should help give Amazon an added advantage against Google’s Home devices, particularly here in the States, where the bulk of Apple Music subscribers reside.

For Apple’s part, the offering brings Music to much more accessible hardware. The HomePod currently runs $349 — several times the price of the entry-level Echo Dot. The new skill arrives on Echo devices the week of December 17.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Smart speaker sales on pace to increase 50 percent by 2019

Posted by on Aug 14, 2018 in Amazon, Amazon Echo, Google, Hardware, npd | 0 comments

It seems Amazon didn’t know what it had on its hands when it released the first Echo in late-2014. The AI-powered speaker formed the foundation of the next been moment in consumer electronics. Those devices have helped mainstream consumer AI and open the door to wide-scale adoption of connected home products. 

New numbers from NPD, naturally, don’t show any sign of flagging for the category. According to the firm, the devices are set for a 50-percent dollar growth from between 2016-2017 to 2018-2019. The category is projected to add $1.6 billion through next year.

The Echo line has grown rapidly over the past four years, with Amazon adding the best-selling Dot and screen enabled products like the Spot and Show. Google, meanwhile, has been breathing down the company’s neck with its own Home offerings. The company also recently added a trio of “smart displays” designed by LG, Lenovo and JBL.

A new premium category has also arisen, led by Apple’s first entry into the space, the HomePod. Google has similarly offered up the Home Max, and Samsung is set to follow suit with the upcoming Galaxy Home (which more or less looks like a HomePod on a tripod).

As all of the above players were no doubt hoping, smart speaker sales also appear to be driving sales of smart home products, with 19 percent of U.S. consumers planning to purchase one within the next year, according to the firm.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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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

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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

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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

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