Smart Lighting

,

Smart Home Lighting

Along with shading, lighting control has become an enormous part of contemporary residential design. It cleans away wall acne, lets the homeowner arrive in style and depart with ease, and centralizes control across every fixture with their varying intricacies for optimal effect.

As it turns out, and much to the chagrin of all involved (homeowner, architect, lighting designer, technology integrator), it’s a real challenge to pull this off correctly.

The complexity of lighting design has created a gauntlet of potential headaches. The right performance depends on compatibility across several variables for every circuit: Fixture, driver, wiring, dimming module… One oversight in any element can prevent lights from dimming smoothly—or at all. Poor design could lead to the bottom 10 percent of dimming cutting off completely, or your lights flickering. If you have been on a project site you have likely seen when this goes wrong. It is a nightmare.

There is no single manufacturer that covers all bases. Applications, interface, and aesthetic preferences all vary. We’ve spent the last few years building our “dream team” of solutions covering entry-level products, warm dim, tunable white, circadian, high CRI, indoor, and outdoor lighting.

Lutron provides the broadest and most stable backbone (and user interface) for both commercial and residential applications. Most circumstances tend to be a fit for their Homeworks QS or RadioRA2 platforms. They also offer fixtures. Their entry-level Finiré series (don’t worry, nobody else can pronounce it either) offers 3-inch and 4-inch recessed lights with warm dimming—“Cool white” at full brightness and “warm white” at lower levels.

Early last year Lutron acquired Ketra, which brought products capable of tunable white and circadian rhythm. This technology allows white light to span the full spectrum and do so at the same color temperature and cadence as the sun. The lighting system knows your location on the globe using latitude and longitude, current season, and time of day. It is, hands-down, the most impressive demo you will ever see.

It’s difficult to predict where technology integration will be in 10 years, but if the recent past is any indicator, the days of helping with installation alone are gone. Lighting technology is just one example of rapid evolution. Along with it comes the need for more insightful guidance through the growing landscape of options.

Lutron Authorized Dealer

Have Smart Homes Finally Caught Up to Science Fiction?

, , ,

Living in a smart home used to be a concept that was only possible in science fiction movies. Fast-forward to the present day and the amount of science fiction concepts that are already being used by regular homeowners is staggering.

In this article, we are going to look at some of the famous examples of smart technology from the media and show how they accurately predicted the future.

Smart Assistants

One of the most famous examples of smart home technology was Tony Stark’s Jarvis from 2008’s Iron Man and its subsequent sequels. In the film, Jarvis is able to respond to a number of voice commands including turning on appliances and finding information. Both Apple and Amazon have famously created virtual assistants that can do just that. Techradar showcased the Atmos Smart Home Control System, which when integrated into the home, allows you to control all your connected devices through one easy-to-use central hub. In 2008, the technology looked as futuristic as the Iron Man suits, today it is available to everyone.

Smart Lights

Many films accurately predicted the smart technology that we have today. The movie Ex Machina has a scene where colored lights are synchronized with whatever music is playing. In the film it is a billionaire’s toy, but today, the average consumer can achieve the same effect with the Philips Hue. It synchronizes your lights with your music so you can watch it come to life. Even as far back as the sixties, smart home technology was predicted. The Ambient notes that from the Jetsons House is a great example of smart technology, as it showed robot vacuum cleaners, smart TVs, and many more smart gadgets that we have today. It goes to show that the concepts were always there, someone just had to bring them to the consumer market.

Smart Appliances

The 1999 movie Smart House, also got a few things right about future home tech including AI assistants and smart home devices that can send messages to your contacts without you picking up the phone. The house in the movie also lets the homeowner create personalized alarms that can wake them up, as well as smart kitchen helpers that can make coffee even before they get to the kitchen.

Artificial Intelligence

Science fiction has always looked at how technology will advance, and many of the concepts that were conceived in the 20th Century have come to fruition in the 21st. Of course, science fiction has generally been more focused on the negative aspect of advancing technology with an emphasis on how technology will turn against humanity. This particular topic has been very popular among some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters such as the Terminator and Jurassic Park franchises. Slingo Slots has a series of titles based on technology and science going wrong including the cinematic classics Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. Both games cover today’s controversial topics, AI and cloning, and the original conception of both titles were conceived when AI and cloning were considered purely science fiction. It goes to show just how far technology has come that games based on futuristic themes are now out-dated. The same is true with smart homes, which are now more advanced than some homes featured in science fiction films.

Of course, it is not just science fiction that smart homes can be associated with. Here on Smaart House we featured several ways to incorporate smart technology in your home for holiday celebrations like Halloween. Spookify is a great option, as it lets you play eerie tunes around your home. Accompany it with a creepy story from Audible and you’re all set for a spooky night.

 

Your Smart Home just got more secure with Alexa Guard

, , , ,
Alexa, I’m leaving.”

OK — I’ll be on guard.

That’s the gist of Alexa Guard, a new feature from Amazon that lets your Echo devices keep an ear out for trouble when you’re away from home. If Alexa hears something after you’ve put her into Guard mode — a smoke alarm ringing or the sound of shattering glass, for instance — she’ll send you a notification. If you’re an ADT or Ring subscriber, she’ll notify your home security monitoring service, too.

Another feature: If you want, Alexa will cycle your smart lights on and off while you’re away to make it look like you’re home.

First announced back in September, Alexa Guard is now rolling out to Amazon’s customer base in the US. I was able to turn the feature on in my own home over the weekend, and spent some time testing it out. Here are some early takeaways:

Yep, it works!

With far-field microphones in every Echo device, Alexa is already a pretty good listener. Alexa Guard puts those mics to use by listening for the sound of glass breaking or the sound of alarms when you aren’t home.

And, my early impression is that it works pretty well! I didn’t have a spare window to smash at my place, but I played a YouTube video of glass break sound effects near one of my Echo devices, and immediately received a notification on my phone that Alexa heard something that sounded like glass breaking. The same thing happened when I tested with the sound of a smoke alarm going off.

Home Automation Installation

 

Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t seem to be as advanced as that, but it’s still an additional layer of protection while you’re away. And when Alexa hears something, her notification offers the immediate option of using Drop In to listen through your Echo device. If you wanted, you could even broadcast yourself telling the potential intruder that you’re calling the police as a means of scaring them off.

Alexa can’t call 911

Still, as Amazon notes as you’re confirming setup in the Alexa app, “Alexa Guard is not a replacement for an alarm system or life safety devices. Amazon does not monitor Smart Alerts and cannot contact emergency services on your behalf.”

That last bit is really important. Say you’re out on vacation with Alexa Guard turned on. Your Echo device at home hears the sound of your smoke detector going off, and Alexa sends you a notification. Unfortunately, you’re playing in the hotel pool with the kids, and you miss the notification. Alexa won’t act on your behalf at this point the way a professional monitoring service would. It’s on you to see the notification and act accordingly.

That said, with Ring, Amazon says that users can request dispatch of emergency responders directly from the Ring app if they are subscribed to the Ring Protect Plus plan.

And if you’re using an Alexa-compatible home security system that she can already arm and disarm with voice commands, you’ll be able to set it so that happens automatically whenever you turn Guard mode on and off. And if you’re disarming your system, she’ll still ask you for a numerical PIN code before doing so. That’s a touch that saves you from needing to give two separate voice commands as you come and go. Just say, “Alexa, I’m leaving” when you’re walking out the door, then “Alexa, I’m home,” followed by your PIN code when you return.

Away Lighting is smart and simple

Along with listening for trouble, Alexa Guard will let the assistant toggle your smart lights on and off while you’re out to make it look like you’re home — and potentially deter any would-be burglars from attempting a break-in.

You can enable the feature with a single tap when you’re turning Alexa Guard on in the Alexa app for Android and iOS devices. Once you do, the app will list all of your smart lights and include them all in Away Lighting by default. If there are any you’d like left out, just uncheck them.

The feature asks for your zip code when you’re setting it up — Alexa uses that zip code to know what time sunset is in your area each night. Away Lighting will only run when it’s dark out.

From there, you should be all set. When Alexa Guard is active and set to Away mode, your lights will automatically cycle on and off. The feature worked well when I tested it, and was even smart enough to automate some lights in tandem where it made sense — “Bedroom Ceiling Light 1” and “Bedroom Ceiling Light 2,” for instance. I didn’t need to set that up; Alexa just figured it out.

I also appreciated that the Alexa app gives you a detailed rundown of Alexa’s automated moves during Away Lighting. That’s good for micro-managers (and, admittedly, for guinea pigs like me that want a closer look at what Alexa’s up to).

Cheers!

 

12 home Automation Tips for the Holidays

, , ,
Smaart House Blog

Well, putting that tech to work can make your life easier and give you more time to focus on playing host. Automation can also help you ramp up security and helps you to head away on vacation without worrying about your home being broken into and your precious smart devices stolen.

We’ll launch straight in now and give you a brief overview of how to make that tech sing and dance for you, almost literally in some cases!

Home Automation Tips

Our core focus today centers on the twin pillars of the quintessential smart home: convenience and security.

You can layer up products to make your home much safer and less prone to a security breach, but since it’s the holiday season, we’ll be layering on more on the convenience angle of automation.

1) Protecting Your Incoming Holiday Packages With a Video Doorbell Camera

While most burglaries take place in summer, that’s no reason to get complacent over the looming holiday season.

Property crime, mercifully, continues to fall to all-time lows but there’s something about Christmas you can’t ignore…

With so many households now ordering gifts online – here at Smart Home, most of us do the bulk of our gift shopping online – those incoming packages make potentially easy pickings for the opportunist thief.

Unless that is, you invest in a video doorbell camera.

Now, this type of device only acts as the first line of defense – we’ll look directly below at how you can ramp things up further – but it’s a highly effective starting point.

Obviously, the average thief is highly aware of exactly what smart home devices look like. They’ll be only too familiar with a video doorbell and what you do think is likely to happen if they spot a package at the same time they clap eyes on the all-seeing eye of a doorbell camera? Runoff in search of easier pickings!

There’s also the added bonus that you can liaise with couriers remotely to avoid the package being dumped somewhere risky in the first place while remaining in full control of your smart home’s entrance wherever you happen to be.

2) Ramp Up Security In General With a Full Home Security System

If you want to prevent break-ins over the holiday season and throughout the year, a video doorbell won’t do you much good. There’s simply no substitute for a comprehensive home security system.

Smart security cameras come in at a range of price-points suitable for pretty much any budget. Thanks to the Internet of Things and improved cellular coverage, it’s now quite possible to install fully wireless cameras with no need whatsoever for a landline.

Whether you want a full package with professional monitoring – ideal and super-convenient for many homeowners – if you’re renting or simply dislike being locked into contracts, you can go it alone while still keeping your smart home and its contents fully safeguarded.

Build things out further with floodlight cameras

Here’s an analog tip to sit neatly alongside all that digital automation…

Why not pop a security sign in your garden? Make it absolutely apparent to any intruder that they’ll be caught on camera long before they gain access to your home and that the police will be alerted to their unwanted presence. As much as we love tech, it’s a smart move to mix in some more traditional methods.

3) Enhance Your Entry System With Smart Locks

With your smart home fully secured for the holiday season, it’s time to think about home automation for the sake of convenience.

Smart locks simply replace one form of a lock with another, often slotting over your existing deadbolt so security is surprisingly not the main purpose of these slick devices.

The primary purpose of smart locks is to make your life easier so how about adding to that with a dose of fun when party time comes around?

August Smart Lock allows you to assign temporary virtual codes. Rather than spending your party running back and forth from the front door to the den, why not send out entry codes with your invites and allow guests to let themselves in instead? If that sounds like too much hassle, you could always grant them access in-app as they arrive.

Either way, stay in the thick of the action and let the tech do the work for you. This is exactly what the best smart home should do… automate processes that are otherwise tedious.

And the best thing? Once the hangover from the party has vanished, your smart lock will still be in place.

4) Automate Your Festive Lighting

If you’ve got some lighting out in the garden, why not consider some weatherproofed on/off modules so you can avoid the need for manual control?

You can apply this same principle to your lights and decorations indoors so you’ve got all that lighting covered and you can automate it sidestepping any need for manual input besides setting it up in the first place.

5) Use Smart Lighting For Your Party

Once the party has started, you can get a little more creative on the lighting front.

You can use smart strips and feature framing from the Philips Hue range along with the classic ambiance lighting so you can set the mood for your party without needing to lift a finger. Use If This, Then That to create lighting recipes to suit and take advantage of colored bulbs to inject some fun into the proceedings.

Imagination is your only limitation when it comes to automating your lights over the holiday season so what are you waiting for? Get started and see what other ideas you can come up with!

As an aside, you can automate your smart lighting so your home looks well lived-in when you’re taking a well-deserved break in the Bahamas. Take full remote control in-app on your cell phone or program routines so you can leave your phone in the hotel room and disconnect for a while. Either way, you can sleep easily knowing your house won’t be pitch black every night and an open invitation to any opportunist thief.

6) Consider a Hub If You Need One To Maximize Automation Over The Holidays and Into 2019

A general pointer as we hit the midpoint of these 12 home automation tips for the holidays…

Perhaps the key and the cornerstone to automating your smart home devices and getting them all to communicate harmoniously regardless of protocol is a solid smart home hub.

If you haven’t already invested in one, the holiday season is the perfect excuse to put that to rights.

Whether you roll with Samsung’s classic SmartThings hub, a Wink gateway or even a smart speaker, enter 2019 strong with the foundation of a fully automated home in place.

7) Use Automation To Help In The Kitchen

The holiday season is all about great food with the ones you love surrounding you.

Smart displays like the mighty Google Home Hub are the ideal tool for checking out recipes and being led through instructions step-by-step to simplify cooking no end. You can even get recommendations on the home screen if you’re stuck for inspiration and the time is ticking before your guests start arriving. With smart technology, these suggestions are seasonal and you can save them into your own personal cookbook using voice commands.

8) Take Smart Cooking Even Further

With the basics in place to help you prep your food hands-free even if you’re not the greatest or most experienced cook, you can smarten things up further by treating yourself to the Traeger Timberline 1300.

This smart pellet grill lets you access a vast database of recipes and afford you remote control of the temperature and timers so you can stay connected to your guests while also remaining connected to cooking duties even if you’re not in the kitchen.

Smart scales and precision WiFi cookers can also take a great deal of the sting out of those tedious jobs so you can spend more time relaxing and less fussing over ingredients.

As we edge toward 2019, these automated helpers are only set to increase in scope and by 2020, you might even have some form of robotic assistant to roll out as the ultimate party piece.

9) Create The Mood for Dinner

Now, with all the food in place, you can use automation to set the scene for the perfect mealtime…

If everyone is scattered around the house, simply mute the TVs and music in-app so you can make yourself heard and let everyone know it’s time to chow down.

Create a dining room scene so the lights are tailored accordingly and your holiday playlist kicks in.

With a smart thermostat in place, the temperature is dialed in without you needing to constantly fiddle with a manual alternative.

All that remains is to crack open the wine and enjoy all that lip-smacking food with your nearest and dearest.

10) Smarten Up Your Home Theater To Enhance Holiday Viewing

Automation can come fully to the fore for your seasonal entertainment. The home theater is the ideal forum for tech giants to really push the boundaries of seamless, effortless viewing.

Whether you’re wowing guests with your sleek new projector or 65-inch TV, ensuring that your soundbar provides fully immersive audio to bring any movie fully to life or you prefer in-wall speakers for a subtler approach, make your home theater the centerpiece of your smart home. Ensure this is one space where you don’t need to lift a finger, and you can kick back fully with friends and family.

In terms of general TV, take full advantage of affordable streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku, or Fire TV so you can once again let that technology do all the hard yards for you while you watch the latest series that’s got you hooked.

The sky really is the limit in terms of automation in this arena, so let your imagination run wild and buy whatever your budget will stretch to.

11) Take Advantage of Festive Playlists

Music is a staple year-round but all the more so when the holiday season is in full swing.

You can harness the full strength of your smart speakers and your favorite streaming services to take charge of party music with voice control. Even if you need to shout commands across a crowded and noisy room, Alexa is getting better than ever at picking up those instructions. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, enable the Christmas skill and ask your virtual butler to play those festive tunes.

You can keep things simple as well by allowing guests to play DJ. Just let them connect to your soundbar or Bluetooth speaker using their smartphone and you can allow everyone to play a part in automation.

Whichever way you choose to play it, the days of hustling back and forth to change records or swap CDs is dying the same death as non-smart homes as we push toward 2019.

12) Skip The Cleaning Up With a Robot Vacuum

Once the last guests have gone, what are you left with?

A trashed smart home if the festivities have been more boisterous than you expected!

If you’re feeling slightly tender but need order restored, the very last thing you’ll feel like doing is grabbing the vacuum and giving the house a thorough blitz but you don’t need to…

Automate your cleaning with a robot vacuum and you can enjoy breakfast in bed and ease into the last few days before hitting the office while the robot vac does all the tedious work for you.

Final Word

We hope you’ve found some real gems in this guide to home automation for the holiday season and on into 2019. Happy holidays!

 

Technology for Caregiving – we review the Apple Watch Series 4

Apple Watch 4 for Caregiving

Aiding Caregiving

Technology that benefits caregiving; the Apple Watch series 4 is a good example of technology for good.

The explosion in smart devices—phones, watches, fitness gadgets and the like—has unleashed a wave of apps designed to manage chronic illnesses, detect behavioral diseases and manage pain. Most recently, Apple announced that apps due later this year will allow its Series 4 watches to perform electrocardiogram readings or ECGs, and notify users of irregular heart rhythms.

The problem for consumers is knowing which apps—if any—actually work.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the ECG app and irregular-rhythm notification feature on the Apple watch but noted that the apps aren’t intended to replace traditional diagnosis methods. The agency said the ECG data displayed on the Apple watch is for informational purposes only and isn’t intended to be interpreted by the user without consulting a health-care professional.

Most health apps on the market aren’t required to be reviewed by the FDA. That has raised concerns that some apps could expose consumers to harm.

The FDA last September started working with Apple and eight other tech and medical-device companies—including Fitbit , Samsung and Verily Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet —to streamline approval of mobile medical apps. In the meantime, here is a status check on some of the areas where health-monitoring tools might make the most difference.

Measuring Heart Health

Smartphones and watches can collect data on the heart continuously, which promises to improve the detection and treatment of heart disease.

For instance, devices that track heartbeat data can help doctors identify atrial fibrillation, a leading cause of heart failure and strokes. With a-fib, the upper two chambers of the heart beat erratically and at dangerously high speeds. Since symptoms come and go, it can be hard to detect, but watches worn for long periods have a chance of spotting it outside of a doctor’s office.

An ECG, the standard method of detecting a-fib, requires placing 12 electrodes on a patient’s body. The Apple Watch Series 4 will have electrodes built into the watch’s digital crown, which users touch for 30 seconds after opening the app to get an ECG reading, Apple says.

Another device, the KardiaBand watchband, also offers ECG capabilities and was cleared by the FDA in November. It was most effective in detecting a-fib when physicians looked at the results, rather than relying solely on the watch’s algorithms, according to a study by the Cleveland Clinic. The device’s instructions tell wearers to place their thumb over a spot on the watchband embedded with an electrocardiogram sensor, which records their heart rhythm.

But in the Cleveland Clinic study, about 35% of the recordings couldn’t be read by the watch’s algorithms, possibly because people didn’t press their thumbs down for the required 30 seconds. Electrophysiologists, however, looking at the same data, were able to accurately identify people with a-fib 100% of the time and people without a-fib 80% of the time. The electrophysiologists also beat the algorithm’s performance on recordings that it could read, correctly identifying people with a-fib 99% of the time, compared with the algorithm’s 93%.

Which is a reminder for all of us that patient compliance and adherence to protocol is the critical ingredient to determine the accuracy of these tests

With smartphone-based electrocardiogram monitors, clinics can access recordings of patients’ heart rhythms no matter where they are. Doctors can also use the monitors to diagnose patients with intermittent episodes of a-fib, which are hard to catch and follow up on patients who have had ablations, a procedure that removes diseased tissue from the heart to try to stop a-fib symptoms.

Family Caregivers are cued into technology

Family Caregiving

39% of U.S. adults are caregivers and many navigate health care with the help of technology

Four in ten adults in the U.S. are caring for an adult or child with significant health issues, up from 30% in 2010. Caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, but is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce.

Caregivers are highly engaged in the pursuit of health information, support, care, and advice, both online and offline, and do many health-related activities at higher levels than non-caregivers.

Indeed, being a caregiver is independently associated with key health-related activities. When controlling for age, income, education, ethnicity, and good overall health, caregivers are more likely than other adults to:

  • Gather health information online, particularly about medical problems, treatments, and drugs.
  • Gather health information offline, from clinicians, friends, family, and others who share the same health condition.
  • Go online specifically to try to figure out what condition they or someone else might have.
  • Consult online reviews about drugs and other treatments.
  • Track their own weight, diet, exercise routine, or other health indicator.
  • Read online about someone else’s personal health experience (which, in the case of caregivers, could be related to their own or their loved one’s condition).
  • Go online to find others with similar health concerns (again, there may be dual motivations to connect — to find more information about handling caregiver stress, for example, or about their loved one’s health challenges).

In a previous study by the Pew Research Center, 47% of U.S. adults say it is likely that, at some point in their life, they will be responsible for caring for an aging parent or another elderly family member.1 Demographic patterns bear out this prediction: People ages 65 and older represented 12.4% of the U.S. population in the year 2000 but are expected to be 19% of the population by 2030.2

This survey finds that fully 75% of U.S. adults age 65 and older are living with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Numerous studies have shown that the day to day management of these complex medical cases falls squarely on family members and friends who may not be trained. But, as this study shows, caregivers are turning to every resource available to get the information and support they need.

39% of caregivers manage medications for a loved one; few use tech to do so

Thirty-nine percent of caregivers manage medications for a loved one, such as checking to be sure pills are taken properly or refilling prescriptions. Just 7% of caregivers use online or mobile tools, such as websites or apps, to do so.

Nine in ten caregivers own a cell phone and one-third have used it to gather health information

Eighty-seven percent of caregivers in the U.S. own a cell phone and, of those, 37% say they have used their phone to look for health or medical information online. This is a significantly higher than the rate of mobile health search among non-caregivers at the time of the survey: 84% of non-caregivers own a cell phone and 27% have used their phone to look online for health information.

Most caregivers say the internet is helpful to them

When asked about the specific impact of the internet:

  • 59% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to provide care and support for the person in their care.
  • 52% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to cope with the stress of being a caregiver.

Using Amazon Echo or Google Home for Caregiving

, ,

Amazon Echo for Caregiving

Caregiving can be a challenge, but with smart voice assistants like Google Home or Amazon Echo, you can make caregiving fun.

If you’re an Amazon Echo or Google Homeowner, you may only ask your device for the weather or to play music. That’s O.K., but these devices can do so much more — and they can offer more than a few useful tricks to make you feel as if you’re living in the future.

Some of these can make your mornings a little brighter, while others can make your evenings more relaxing. To get the most of these Alexa commands, you’ll need to enable the skills from the Alexa Skills store first, and the Google Home commands and settings have to be enabled in your Google Home mobile app.

Both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa offer a “routines” skill, which automates certain tasks based on a single command. For example, you can ask your Amazon Echo or Google Home to tell you the weather and what’s on your calendar for the day, after saying “Alexa, start my day” or “Hey Google, good morning.” With this particular routine, there are nine actions the Google Home can perform, including reading the day’s top stories or local news, and then transition into six other actions like playing your favorite music or a preferred podcast to finish up your “morning.” On the Echo, there are four basic options, but you can add eight more to lengthen the routine.

The Google Home has six ready-to-go routines that you can customize in the Google Home app, and the Amazon Echo has one. You can also create completely custom routines on both devices.

Parents, this one might be a lifesaver — for your voice: Both products let you broadcast an announcement across other devices in your home. So, if you have an Echo in the kitchen, living room and a child’s bedroom, you can say, “Alexa, announce that dinner is ready,” and Alexa will repeat the message on each device in your voice — no skill necessary.

With the Google Home and Google Home Mini, you can do a similar command: “Hey Google, tell everyone it’s time to go.” If you’re an iOS user and want to do this but you’re away from home, you’ll have to separately download the Google Assistant app (Android users already have the Assistant enabled if they have the latest version of the operating system).

You might’ve heard of this but were dubious whether hands-free calling was actually possible, or easy. The good news: It is. The so-so news: There are a few steps you need to take before your hands-free calling dreams come true.

On Amazon Echo devices, you first have to sync your contacts in the Alexa app. Then, simply ask Alexa to call any of these people. A bonus feature on Echo devices is that you can call a friend or family member on their Echo device, like an Echo Spot or any device with Alexa installed. To enable this, both you and the person you’re trying to contact must have Alexa Calling and Messaging turned on. Then, you can call anyone from your mobile contacts. If that person has signed up, he or she will get a phone call on the Echo device or in the Amazon Alexa app.

With the Google Home, first link your Google account to your Google Home, turn on “personal results” and then sync your contacts. You’re ready to go, and you can ask Google to call anyone in your contacts list. You can also set hands-free callingto reveal your number when you call, so people can know it’s you and not an unfamiliar proxy number used to connect the call. (The Echo offers the same capability.)

For now, both devices don’t support calling emergency services, so no “Alexa, call 911” for you. Hands-free calling with Alexa works only in the United States, Canada and Mexico and only in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. for the Google Home.

Need a moment to yourself? Try meditating or relaxing with both devices with a few free, guided meditations from Headspace. On Google, you can say, “Hey Google, talk to Headspace”; on Alexa, request “Alexa, open Headspace.” If you’re a subscriber, you can continue a meditation from your phone onto your device. If you want general meditation content, you can say something along the lines of “Alexa, help me relax,” or “O.K. Google, help me meditate.”

Both devices can also help you calm down with commands like “O.K. Google, help me relax,” and sounds like rain falling will play — or white noise if you’re using it to go to sleep. The Echo is similar, but you can pick and choose what types of sounds you want to hear from the skills store. Google can also play “sleep sounds,” which are really lullabies meant for children, while the Echo offers white or ambient noise. Just say “Alexa, help me sleep” for options.

Sure, these devices can play music and add items to your cart, but it’s a little annoying to start every single request with “Alexa” or “O.K. Google.” Thankfully, Amazon and Google realized this. On the Google Home, the “Continued Conversation” feature allows you to ask your device a question, and the microphone stays on for eight additional seconds to see if you’ll ask a follow-up. (You do need to enable this in the settings of the Google Home app, as the feature is turned off by default.) The Amazon Echo also has the feature, except Amazon calls it “Follow-up mode” and you also have to turn it on in the app before using it.

Once it’s on, you can ask questions like “Who sang ‘In My Feelings?,’” and once your device responds with “Drake,” you can ask “How old is he?” and the device will not only know who “he” refers to but also answer without missing a beat. (Spoiler: Drake is 31.)

This feature has also paved the way to ask the device to do multiple things in one command. For example, with “multiple actions” on Google Home devices, you can say something like “Hey Google, turn up the thermostat and tell me the weather.” On the Echo, you can’t do it in a single sentence, but with follow-up mode you can just ask the two different commands one after the other.

Google’s later start in the smart home arena wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The extra time allowed it to come up with some truly useful exclusive features. For example, if you download and use the Google Assistant app in addition to Google Home, you can ask Google to remind you to do something at a certain location. So, if you need to buy milk at the grocery store, you can say “Hey Google, remind me to buy milk at the grocery store,” and as soon as you’re near your preferred store (which Google will ask you to specify), your phone will let you know what you need.

And if you’re in the mood for a nice story at the end of a long workday, just say “Hey Google, tell me something good,” and Google Assistant will read some “feel-good” stories.

Amazon’s focus in the smart home space has long been less about automation or routines and more about who you are as a person. For example, the seven-minute workout skill will walk you through a quick, high-intensity workout just by saying, “Start seven-minute workout.” If you have an Echo Show or Spot, both of which have LCD displays, you’ll also see images walking you through some exercises.

Another example is “Alexa Donations,” where with an easy “Alexa, I want to make a donation,” you can donate $5 to $5,000 to the charity or cause of your choice. At the moment, 154 nonprofits work with Amazon and Alexa Donations to make it possible.

With these new commands, you and your home should be on the way to becoming smarter — and more useful. Sure, these devices can play music and set timers, but these tips can help you get even more of your money’s worth.

Caregiving; when seniors soon outnumber children

The future of caregiving

The population of the United States is not as young as it used to be, and the year 2035 represents a major demographic turning point.

According to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report, in 2035 “there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18.” In other words, the elderly population will outnumber children for the first time in the country’s history — a demographic shift that poses a unique set of public health challenges.

Los Angeles County will be especially impacted by the increasing ratio of non-working adults over 65 to working adults. In 2016, there were 5.2 working adults per retired person, but within 20 years, that number is expected to drop to 2.9.

Aging U.S. population: meeting mental health needs

When populations age, communities are tasked with supporting both the physical and mental health needs of older adults. California’s older adult population alone will increase by 64 percent by 2035 and with it the need for more services. Findings from a 2012 Institute of Medicine report highlight the growing crisis of dementia, substance abuse and mental illness, such as depression among America’s older adult population.

The conditions are often stigmatized, resulting in an absence of institutional support for services meant to address them.

Coupled with a lack of support and mentorship opportunities for students interested in working with older populations, this has led to a shortage of professionals with the necessary training to treat older patients struggling with these issues — as well as a dearth of crucial social services.

Yet, as the most recent census data indicates, there has never been a more important time for social workers to consider careers working with older adults. As the population of older adults with behavioral and psychological conditions increases, so too will the demand for related services and care.

The swelling of this demographic is owed, in part, to an influx of immigrants after World War II who now count themselves among baby boomers. The uptick in immigration also accounts for an increase in the ethnic and racial diversity of the aging adult population and their offspring. According to census data, “by 2020, less than half of children in the United States are projected to be non-Hispanic white alone.” This trend toward diversity is expected to continue among younger generations as well: Individuals who identify as “two or more races” make up the fastest-growing demographic in America.

Longer life expectancies among foreign-born minorities have also contributed to the growth of the older adult population. Because foreign-born minorities often live longer than their American-born counterparts, they spend more time in the category of “non-working older adult.” Asian populations, in particular, tend to live longer than populations of other ethnic backgrounds.

Cultural Barriers

The presence of so many different ethnicities across geographic diasporas, different languages, and different cultures creates great challenges for social work.

Current programs often do not account for differences in language and culture, creating a barrier to access for aging people in need. To compound these issues, doctors and social workers are not always trained to recognize medical and mental conditions that are most common among certain groups. Example; diabetes and high cholesterol are prevalent in Asian and Asian-American communities, but because that disease is often thought to be associated with obesity — which is not as prevalent in those communities — doctors often do not screen for it.

Finding new solutions

Addressing the needs of a large and diverse older adult population will require new and innovative solutions like integrating high-tech communication tools into caregiving processes. The most obvious benefit of this approach is the convenience factor these tools provide: Older adults with limited mobility may prefer a video conference call with their social worker or health care provider rather than an in-person visit, for example.

Equally important are the potential mental health benefits such tools would offer otherwise isolated older adults: ‘Teaching older Americans to use technology to communicate can improve cognition as well as feelings of connectedness, which could alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety,’ becomes even more critical. Digital voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home with their smart sensors and conversational design can play a role in combating the challenges of living alone.

Technology Solutions for Senior Care

, ,

I was delighted to deliver a presentation on technology solutions for senior care to the UCSD Rady’s School of Management, and am happy to share with you this presentation.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amazon Alexa empowering seniors to stay healthy!

, ,

Alexa for health

Dr. on call

Too busy to call your doctor’s office? Well now you can simply shout at Alexa from the comfort of your couch for slightly similar results. Echo owners are able to hear physician-reviewed answers to questions about certain medical conditions and symptoms, drugs, side effects, tests and treatments by simply asking Alexa about them.

So now it’ll be even easier to spend hours on end trying to determine whether that teeny, tiny, probably harmless splinter you got in your pinky finger could lead to your imminent demise. Woo!

Generally speaking

Looking for answers to your health question, worried about drug side effects, WebMD has the answers for you. Looking for self-care instructions for dozens of everyday mishaps and other situations, then Mayo Clinic First Aid may have some answers for you. On the other hand, Dr. A. I. engages with you in an empathetic conversation.  And mention your symptoms as a “dry cough and fever”, then Symptom Checker has solutions for you.

Diabetes tracking

Now you can track all your diabetes data via voice command with Amazon Alexa! The One Drop Alexa Skill uses Amazon voice technology along with the One Drop app to create a quick and seamless experience for both people with diabetes and their caregivers. Sugarmate on the other end allows you to ask Alexa about your latest glucose readings from a Dexcom CGM, while The Insulin Calculator provides a straightforward and easy way to calculate insulin doses for people with diabetes. It is intended for educational purposes to help with standard insulin dose calculations.

Chronic conditions

To track other chronic conditions try myNursebot.

Before you pop that pill

When it works, the WebMD Alexa Skill is helpful, but unfortunately, many users report the skill has trouble recognizing drug names when they’re spoken aloud. Drug Facts pulls up information from both the Food and Drug Administration and the National Library of Medicine, but you must know the 10-digit National Drug Code number to get your drug questions answered.

Your doctor and hospital connect to Alexa

For urgent care clinic locations, various local Alexa Skills are launching. OhioHealth delivers phone numbers, wait times, and hours of operation for hospitals and healthcare clinics under the OhioHealth umbrella. To see the average, not real time, wait times, try Average ER wait times for hospitals near me.

Babies and kids

For children’s health, KidsMD by Boston Children’s Hospital is a bit too chatty — but still useful for answering questions, and gives dosing recommendations for children based on their weight for common over-the-counter medicines. To look up childhood immunization recommendations based on the U.S. vaccination schedule, Baby Shot will tell you what is advised for your child’s age.

Need help in the middle of the night — or honestly any time at all? Hatch Baby has doctor-recommended advice, while also keeping track of a baby’s sleep schedule, along with dirty and wet diapers. Even more expansive, the Baby Stats Alexa Skill tracks due dates, kicking, bottles drunk and diaper activity for multiple babies.

Now, who said about wait times at the doctor’s clinic…..