Getting to Know Alexa: Amazon Echo


Amazon EchoI ordered the Amazon Echo months ago, having received an invitation to buy, but didn’t get it till just a few weeks ago. It is now available to anyone and will start shipping July 14th.  I am getting to know “Alexa” the Echo’s voice assistant.

So what is the Amazon Echo? It’s an awesome wireless speaker and also a digital assistant. It has many applications as potential assistive technology too, though it was not designed specifically with that in mind.

The voice recognition is good, and it learns your voice the more you use it. I set up an account for my husband on the Echo, he speaks with a Cerebral Palsy (CP) accent, and he was amazed that Alexa understood him on the first try.  I find myself adding please and thank you to the commands as it seems to directive to just say things like “Alexa!” “Stop!”, though it does give me a sense of power (grin).

People who have cognitive issues, like memory problems,  can ask Alexa the day, the time, the weather, have her read your news flash (you set this up on the web or app interface).  I use the integration with Google Calendar to ask her what my schedule is for the day when I first get up in the morning.  You can also ask questions about cooking, the weather, traffic, sports, shopping and more.  You can set up a common travel route and then ask how the traffic is on that route for example.

The Echo also has a built-in to do list and shopping list. If you also have the app on your smart phone, the shopping list is handy at the store. I chronically leave my hand printed shopping list at home, so this is handy for me!

the WeMo SwitchThere are also several smart home device integrations, the Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue connected devices, though I haven’t tested these yet. I had a Belkin Switch, but dropped it hard and it stopped working. I haven’t replaced it yet.  Here’s an article from CNET about the Echo and connected devices.

I am just beginning to explore the recipes in “If this then that (IFTTT)” for Amazon Echo.  Some use (hack) the to do list and the shopping list to accomplish other things. For example there is a recipe that will send a short SMS via voice to anyone through Echo’s To Do list. When you use this, the recipient will receive a text with the content of all items you add to your To Do List.  So if you want to text “I’m Running Late”, for example, simply say “Alexa – add ‘I am running late’ to my To Do List”.  Of course, once you hack your To Do List this way, you would not use it for a To Do list anymore.

If I wanted to add a quick event to the Google Calendar, there’s a hack to do this via voice command to Alexia using the To Do list.

You can also be very annoying using this recipe which connects the Echo and Gmail and will send a clapping animated image to everyone once you complete an item on your to do list. Of course, you can also create your own recipes on IFTTT.

So is the Amazon Echo “Assistive Technology (AT)”? Of course it depends on the person and how it is used. I’d say it is AT for me!  Right now, I am using it for listening to music, which is relaxing after a morning of computer problems. When the phone rings, I can just say “Alexa!” (The blue light comes on on the top rim of the Echo) “Off please!”.  I think the reminders and voice commands will certainly be AT for many people.

Have you used the Amazon Echo as AT? Are you considering getting one? Please share!



2 thoughts on “Getting to Know Alexa: Amazon Echo

  1. Tony Ferack

    I think I’ll put off buying this device. It’s in its infancy but the potential for more home automation is certainly there. I didn’t check, but another article I read mentioned the cost as $179. I have to assume that the firmware will automatically update itself as more controlling devices are added.

  2. Kathryn Wyeth Post author

    I forgot to mention too, reading reviews on Amazon, it’s clear some people are using the Echo as AT!


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