Category: Home / building automation and security

Smartphones and voice-activated home-assistant platforms help with managing your prescribed medications

Article

‘Alexa, order my meds’ — start-up NowRx pioneers prescription refills through Alexa and Google Home | CNBC

My Comments

There are steps that are taking place to interlink today’s technology with the chore of ordering your prescription medicines from the local pharmacist.

A system that has existed for a few years in Australia and is continuing to run is eRx Express which works with a mobile-platform app and QR codes that are printed on prescriptions. In this setup, a user could send a prescription order to their local pharmacy by scanning that QR code. But they would have to go to that pharmacy to collect and pay for their medicines, unless the pharmacy has established a home-delivery arrangement for the patient.

The main benefit is to allow a person to start things happening for a prescription to be filled from home, work or a shopping-centre’s food court and not have to wait around at the chemist’s while it is being filled. This system is part of an IT solution that is being offered to Australian doctors and pharmacists to improve the prescription-management workflow.

NowRx, a Silicon-Valley startup, have taken this further by providing a Skill for the Amazon Alexa and Google Home so you can use these voice-driven home-assistant platforms to order your prescription medicines. They want to make it feasible for you to request, refill or renew your medications with the last four digits of your prescription number.

Like the rest of Silicon Valley with their approach to traditional business models, they see it as a way to take on the traditional local chemist’s shop by running a robot-driven warehouse and home-delivery service, and at the moment, they have 400 Bay Area doctors as part of their network. NowRx uses Amazon and Google as a facilitation path so that their patients’ medical data isn’t held by the home-assistant platforms; something that is set up to avoid storing that data on systems that aren’t compliant with the US’s standards concerning medical-data privacy.

There are some people who could see these systems as trampling on what the pharmacy is about, including the management of a patient’s medication and the face-to-face interaction with the pharmacy’s customer base. But if these systems are set up as something that augments a local pharmacist’s workflow such as providing an express path for the supply of medication integral to a patient’s continual-therapy requirement, they can be seen as legitimate by most communities. This is more so where pharmacists are able to and encouraged to provide supplementary health-care services like vaccinations or first-aid as well as dispensing medication, a practiced performed in some European countries.

One of the analogies that can be related to with these services is when the financial industry started implementing automatic teller machines. There was the initial fear of these machines were about replacing bank teller staff but they ended up being primarily as an express option or an all-hours option for a customer to withdraw cash. In this case, the eRx and NowRx platforms would serve more as an express path for a patient to get to the medicines they need as part of their long-term therapy requirements.

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Google to answer Amazon with their own express shopfront

Article

Walmart voice shopping on Google Home is now live | CNet

Anti-Amazon Alliance Ad Unites Google, Walmart, Target, Costco And More | AdAge

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Google Express shopfront

Google Express TV ad (North America) – Tap or click to play

My Comments

The voice-driven home-assistant war between Google and Amazon has heated up further. This time, it is taking place in the form of express online shopping services where you can ask the assistant to order common household items and have them delivered to you. Here, it is more focused on you knowing what you are after and wanting to purchase a particular item of a kind.

Amazon has established this service through the Prime marketplace which requires a paid membership with them. This works with the Amazon Dash “push-to-order” infrastructure which is based around network-connected buttons and appliances with similar functionality available from their control surfaces; along with their Alexa voice-driven home assistant.

But Google answered them by offering the Google Express online storefront which works with third-party retailers that have partnered with Google. There is no paid subscription or membership fee and the goods can be delivered for free subject to the retailer’s free-delivery requirements like minimum order value.

At the moment, Google Express is partnering with Walmart, Toys R Us, Costco, Whole Foods and Target; all who are household names in the USA. But Google has pushed out their Google Home voice-driven home assistant to other countries like most of Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with some of these countries not yet supporting Amazon Alexa.

If Google wanted to establish local presence for Google Express with markets that have Google Home established, they would have to work with local household names in the retail scene. This may be about dealing with one or more local full-line supermarket / hypermarket chains who have a strong presence in these other countries as in Tesco or Sainsburys in the UK; Auchan or Carrefour in most of Continental Europe; or Coles or Woolworths in Australia.

Of course, a question that can be easily raised is whether the express online shopping platforms that Amazon and Google are pushing are being seen as an intent to “rub out” the convenience stores, mid-size supermarkets and the like that exist close to people’s homes. A similar question was raised regarding the arrival of automatic teller machines and their impact on smaller bank branches. Here, these machines were seen more as an “express” path or “always-available” path for the common bank transactions while the branches were able to serve people whose banking needs were met better through in a “face-to-face” manner. But in the case of the convenience stores and mid-size supermarkets, these places may suit people who prefer to visit a place and buy many goods or services or do their shopping “face-to-face”.

But operating Google Express as simply an “interface” storefront between their platforms and third-party retailers may allow them to deal with more of these retailers rather than run their own online store. As well, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung need to watch what is going on in this space especially as the idea of express online shopping is something that will be part of the competitive platform that is the voice-driven home assistant.

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Qarnot to use edge computing to heat your shower or swimming-pool water

Articles

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

Qarnot will be satisfying the hot-water needs of residents in buildings like these for free

AMD’s Ryzen Pro is doing double duty as a processor and house heater | PC Gamer

Asperitas and Qarnot Collaborate in Liquid Cooling | Inside HPC

Deal puts cloud computing in boilers and heaters across Europe | EE News Europe

From the horse’s mouth

Qarnot

1500 AMD Ryzen PRO will heat homes and offices next year in Bordeaux, France (Blog post)

Asperitas

Green edge computing partnership (Press Release)

My Comments

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

using the same kind of technology as the Q.Rad heater

The high-performance computing industry places importance on keeping the processors cool and one way this has happened is to use liquids which works in a similar manner to how the engine is kept cool in most vehicles. This is where a loop of liquid coolant is passed between the engine block and the radiator and heater core to shift the waste heat away from the engine and, in the typical passenger car or commercial vehicle, keep the passenger cabin to a comfortable temperature when it’s cold outside.

In the computing context, it is implemented in some of the most advanced and tricked-out gaming rigs through the use of a water loop and cooling blocks attached to each processor chip along with a radiator that disperses this heat. Qarnot and Asperitas are implementing it as a way of heating water for free using the distributed-computing “micro data center” concept that Qarnot is known for with the Q.Rad data-processing room heater.

This is also in conjunction with Qarnot implementing AMD Ryzen CPUs in the next generation of the Q.Rad because these workstation processors implement perform better than the previously-used Intel CPUs yet yield the same heat output. This is important due to the fact that Qarnot’s distributed-processing market is focused on 3D rendering and visual effects for the movie and TV industry or risk-analysis in the financial industry.

Gaming rig

and the same kind of liquid-based cooling technology used in some of these gaming rigs

But the Qarnot / Asperitas approach to harvesting the processor heat for water heating is focused primarily around providing domestic hot water for the building’s occupants or to heat the water in a swimming pool or spa installed in that building. It would be seen as having a similar environmental and running-cost advantage to a solar hot-water installation used for the same purposes. Let’s not forget that a larger number of the “edge-computing” servers that dissipate their heat in to the building’s hot-water infrastructure using this approach can provide the right amount of heated water that a building needs.

It also yields an advantage for Qarnot either during the summer season or in areas that have warmer climates because they can maintain the distributed processing concept in these areas due to their need to heat water for our year-round hot-water needs.

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Amazon now provides Alexa improved access to landline and mobile telephone services

Article

Using the common household phone

Amazon now is the first voice-driven home assistant to provide a fully-functional equivalent to the traditional household telephone

You Can Now Place Outbound Phone Calls to Most Numbers With Your Amazon Echo Devices | Droid Life

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Echo Connect product page

My Comments

Recently Google stepped ahead by providing North American Google Home users the ability to make landline and mobile phone calls across the USA and Canada from their Google Home device. Amazon couldn’t take this lying down so they added the ability to call any landline or mobile phone in the USA, Canada and Mexico to their Alexa Calling and Messaging functionality. Here, you can say a phone number that you want Alexa to call and she will call that. This also applies to any contact in your mobile phone’s contact list that is bound with your Alexa setup.

Amazon Echo Connect adaptor press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Connect box enables your Amazon Echo speakers to be your traditional household telephone

You still had the same limitations that were associated with Google Home’s calling functionality where your caller wouldn’t see your phone number on their Caller ID display. Nor could you take calls through Alexa or use the 911 national-emergency-number service to call for help.

But Amazon took this further by offering the Echo Connect which is a telephony interface device that connects between your home network and your standard telephone line or VoIP adaptor’s “FXS” socket. What this box really does is create a connection to your regular telephone service so you can use any Alexa-based device to make or take calls as if you are using your ordinary old telephone.

But they could improve on this by offering the Echo Connect functionality as software to be integrated in VoIP-capable Internet gateway devices so you don’t have to add extra boxes to your home network in order to provide this functionality. Similarly, they could look towards providing exchange-side software for telephone exchange / central-office equipment to facilitate a full-function landline telephone bridge for existing telephone-service customers.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Then this device now becomes your home telephone

When you make calls using the Echo Connect, your phone number will show up in your caller’s phone’s caller-ID display. In most cases, this would show up as a reference to whoever is calling you. Similarly, if someone rings you, Alexa will announce who it is that is calling you including the name of the contact in the previously-mentioned mobile contact list. Then you just ask Alexa to answer the call if you want to and your Echo device works like a speakerphone. Add to this the ability to call 911 from your Amazon Echo if you had to.

Again, this would be seen as retrograde with millennials who see the maintenance of a home phone line as being too quaint and outdated, whereupon you should “get with the program” and use a smartphone, preferably an iPhone, as you only telephony device. But these phones are still being seen as a common “catch-all” contact number for a household or for older people who have lived with the traditional telephone. The latest Amazon and Google efforts are carrying this concept of the traditional landline number over to the current online era. Infact, through the use of the Echo Connect device, Amazon have been the first company to enable their voice-driven home assistant platform serve the role of the traditional landline telephone in the context of both making and taking calls.

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Visual support–now a key trend for voice-activated home assistants

Article

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Show – the first to prove the idea of an augment visual interface for the voice-driven home assistant

Amazon’s Echo Spot is a cuter version of the Echo Show | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Amazon Introduces a New Member of the Echo Family: Echo Spot (Press Release)

My Comments

A trend that is surfacing for the voice-activated home assistant device is for these devices to provide a display which works alongside the voice-activated assistant by providing some sort of visual feedback. The display can be physically integrated in the smart speaker or similar device or appear on another device that ties in with the home-assistant device such as a TV equipped with a Chromecast or similar dongle.

Amazon Echo Spot press picture courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Spot – the smaller brother of the Echo Show

Amazon kicked this off with the Echo Show that has an integrated colour touchscreen and augments Alexa replies with visual information as well as being an IP-based videophone. Then Sony integrated a clock display in to their Google Assistant speaker that was being premiered at IFA this year.

Now Amazon premiered their Echo Spot which is about the size of a traditional alarm clock and uses a circular touchscreen as its display. This device was being offered as the smaller bedroom-friendly version of the Echo Show.

But what is this functionality about?

This functionality is about providing visual support to a user’s interaction with a device that is based on a voice-driven home assistant platform. This can range from constantly-displayed information like the current time or the weather to written information that augments an answer offered by Alexa or the Google Assistant. It can also be information that is dependent on current or upcoming events like reminders, information about the music that is playing through the device or the status of an appliance or other device connected to your smart-home setup.

Setups that implement a colour graphical display, whether integrated or as an outboard screen, could take this concept further with photos, album cover art and other material that are part of the visual interface. Examples of this could be Alexa showing pictures of restaurants in response to a query about the best-value eats in town or the device being an electronic picture frame, referring to a collection of photos hosted on the network or the cloud. Let’s not forget that devices with a colour graphical display would implement the screen as a display for a compatible network video-surveillance camera or video intercom.

Of course, whoever programs the skills for Alexa, Google Assistant or other similar platforms will be wanting to write in the visual support and have to provide text as a baseline visual display. Personally I would see this feature as part of how Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Cortana and Siri will evolve in the voice-activated home assistant context.

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Companies now to support multiple voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Harman now has smart speakers for Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant | Engadget

The Sonos smart speaker with microphone hits the FCC | The Verge

Sonos to announce new smart speaker on October 4th | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Harman

WHEN VOICE MEETS SOUND (Press Release)

Introducing JBL® LINK Series: Immersive JBL Sound Now Available with the Google Assistant (Press Release)

HARMAN introduces Harman Kardon Allure with Amazon Alexa to the Voice Activated Speaker Family (Press Release)

My Comments

Harman Allure smart speaker press image courtesy of Harman

Harman Allure smart speaker powered by Amazon Alexa

The Internationaler Funkaustellung trade show has been and gone but this time more manufacturers were premiering smart-speaker products based on either the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant platforms.

One of these is the Sony LF-S50G speaker that looks like Apple’s Siri-based HomePod smart speaker but has an integrated display while Panasonic were also launching the GA10 which is a box-like smart speaker. Both of these speakers work with Google Assistant.

But a few companies have put their feet in multiple ponds by supporting two or more platforms. One way is to offer different models or product ranges that are based on different platforms. The other is to attempt to have the one smart speaker able to be set up to work on one of many platforms that the user chooses.

JBL Link smart speaker range press picture courtesy of Harman

JBL Link smart speaker range powered by Google Assistant

The former approach has been taken by Harman who have multiple names of respect in the hi-fi, sound-recording, PA and allied industries under their wings. Initially, they offered the Invoke smart speaker that is based on the Microsoft Cortana platform. Now the premiered the JBL Link range of smart speakers that work on the Google Assistant platform as well as offering the Harman-Kardon Allure smart speaker that is based on the Amazon Alexa platform.

Pioneer and Onkyo recently underwent a “Renault-Nissan” merger of their home audio and AV businesses and offered a few smart speaker models based on the different platforms. Here, Pioneer premiered the Smart Speaker F4 which is based on the Amazon Alexa platform while Onkyo launched the Smart Speaker G3 based on the Google Assistant platform while maintaining the Alexa-based VC-FLX1 smart speaker that was launched at CES 2017.

The latter approach has been taken by Sonos with their S13 prototype smart speaker that is intended to be released on October 4. Here, they put forward the idea of having the user to have this speaker work with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant rather than being stuck with one platform. It is seen as a premium-level attack at the Apple HomePod which will be based on Siri.

The approach of a manufacturer supporting different voice-driven-assistant platforms like Alexa or Google Assistant in different product ranges may appeal to companies who see one of the platforms offer a particular premium-level cachet which can tie in with their premium product ranges. This is while a popular platform like Alexa or Google Assistant could end up being focused on to popularly-targeted products.

Compare this with the idea of having multiple platforms supported by the same smart-speaker or similar device. Here, it can appeal to TVs, hi-fi / home-theatre components and allied devices that are expected by customers to run for the long haul or with premium network speaker products.

Either trend could be support by many different manufacturers while the devices that you interact with for these platforms could end up being more than just the cylindrical benchtop speakers.

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The Google Home becomes a VoIP landline telephone

Articles

Google Home – to be an alternative to the landline telephone

(Update: Officially announced) Google Home’s calling feature might be coming soon | Android Authority

Google Home voice calling starts rolling out today | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google Home

Introducing Free Calls With Your Assistant On Google Home (Blog Post)

My Comments

Using the common household phone

Could Google serve this role?

In May, Amazon launched an “over-the-top” VoIP system to allow you to call other Echo users as part of the Alexa platform. In my coverage of them launching this service, I saw it as another weapon in the battleground between the various voice-driven home assistant platforms.

Now Google have launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP calling service which allows you to place calls to other USA or Canada phone numbers using your voice. At the moment, it is only an outgoing-call service.

As well, unless you are a Google Voice or Project Fi user, the person on the other end of the line won’t be able to see your number on their Caller-ID-capable telephone, but this will be enabled for other users to have their mobile number displayed by the end of the year. It is seen as a problem with most telephone users because robocalls and telemarketers conceal their Caller ID and users are not likely to answer calls which don’t relate to a person they know.

Here, the Google Home telephony setup works from the user’s Google Contacts phonebook which you could easily build up through your Android phone or through a Web-based user experience if you use an iPhone. There is support for multiple users with the Google Assistant differentiating them via their voiceprint.

Google still has a lot to do with making their Google Home voice-calling service catch up with Amazon Echo, such as supporting inbound calls, text and voice messaging, along with videocalls. In the case of videocalls, it may be about integrating Chromecast in to the equation, perhaps with support for a camera accessory which would be considered if they want to head towards dual-device large-screen videocalling.

But I do see Apple and Microsoft using their established VoIP platforms to make their forays to the voice-driven home assistant become communications devices.

Of course, the idea of integrating this kind of IP-telephony functionality in to Amazon Echo and Google Home platforms could be seen as retrograde by the millennial generation who are used to living without the traditional landline telephone. But such setups could be about maintaining a “catch-all” contact number for a physical location or older-generation users maintaining the idea of the traditional telephone but carrying it forward to the online era. Yet the mobile phones will simply serve as the private communications link while Google Home complements them for short calls where the privacy doesn’t matter.

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Are Siri and Alexa being seen as personal companions?

Article

Is Siri ending up as your personal companion?

Conversations with virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa may be signs of loneliness | First Post

Talking to Siri often? You’re probably lonely | Times Of India

Do YOU rely on your phone for company? Human-like gadgets can offer relief from loneliness in the short term | Daily Mail

Older adults buddy up with Amazon’s Alexa | MarketWatch

My Comments

Hey Siri! Why am I alone now?

A situation that has been drawn out lately is someone feeling comfortable with their iPhone in their hand or sitting at the kitchen table beside an Amazon Echo speaker, trying to build a conversation with Siri or Alexa rather than simply asking something of these voice-driven assistants.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Is this smart speaker becoming your personal companion?

Here, a Kansas University study found that Siri, Alexa and co are being seen as a short-term panacea for social exclusion and loneliness. This is something that is being brought on by broken relationships or an increasing number of work situations where one is spending significant amounts of time away from their significant other or their normal communities. It is also symptomatic of a loss of community that has come about in this day and age.

It is also worth knowing that older and disabled adults are using Alexa or Google Home as a companion in the context of managing lights, or simply asking for the time or a music source. These devices are deliberately designed to look like other pieces of consumer-electronics or IT hardware rather than the typical bland look associated with assistive devices. They also do serve as an aide-memoire for dementia sufferers but only in early stages of this condition before it becomes worse.

But Siri, Alexa, Cortana and co are not perfect replacements for real-life friends, There is the long-term risk of you losing real human interaction if you rely on them as your companions. Here, you simply keep them serving you as a voice-operated “digital concierge” that helps with finding information or setting up your smart home rather than the be-all-and-end-all digital companion.

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Multiroom to be another common feature for smart speakers

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo – to become another online multiroom audio system

Amazon Echo multiroom audio not far off, report says | CNet

My Comments

A feature that is showing up with the “smart speakers” that are part of the various voice-driven home assistant platforms is the ability for multiple speakers of the same platform to work as a multiroom system. This is where the same content source can be played through multiple speakers of that same platform, including the ability to have multiple speakers or audio devices in a logical group representing, perhaps, a floor or an area of the house. This functionality is taking on the audio-content playback abilities like Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Tidal and others offered by the various voice-driven home assistant platforms

Google Home – already a multiroom audio system as well as a smart speaker

Google has already established it with their Home speakers and Chromecast-based audio connectivity devices. But Alexa are intending to join in by allowing you to play the same content source through multiple Echo speakers and to treat a group of speakers as a logical unit. Let’s not forget that while the market’s competitive, Apple and Microsoft won’t want to miss out on the idea of multiroom audio as part of their voice-activated home assistant platforms.

Similarly, Amazon have aligned their Alexa platform with DTS’s PlayFi multiroom audio platform which is pitched at the premium hi-fi market. They have a large number of the hi-fi names with them and are wanting to integrate full Alexa voice functionality in to their speakers and other audio devices.

There may be some feature possibilities that may end up in the product evolution for these smart-speaker platforms. One of these could be to set one or more pairs of speakers up as stereo pairs which can yield the improved separation when you listen to stereo content. Similarly, there could be the idea of creating a multiple-microphone array out of a group of speakers to make it easier for the voice-driven home assistant to understand you.

Who knows how hot the competition for the voice-driven home assistant that talks to you is going to be and whether this will mimic the home videocassette format wars of the early 80s?

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Google Home–now in Australia and on your TV

Article

Google Home: Australian Review | Lifehacker Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Google

TV commercial – click or tap to play

My Comments

I have given regular mention of Google Home as a competitor in the smart home assistant space alongside Amazon Echo. At the time I wrote the previous articles, none of these services were available in Australia.

But since this week, Google Home has become the first of the smart home assistant platforms to be released in to Australia. They are offering these devices for AUD$199 at least through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and Officeworks, and is being linked to most of the ABC live and on-demand audio services along with Sky News and Fox Sports for local news services.

Google have even gone out of their way to promote this device on the TV by using an Australian-localised 30-second version of their Super Bowl TV ad including a question about the noise a kookaburra makes.

But I would suspect that Amazon won’t take this lying down and there will be pressure to make sure that their Echo devices and Alexa platform are on the scene as soon as possible. This would also apply to Microsoft and Apple when they get their home assistant platforms off the ground.

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