The responsibility of looking after an aging loved one is just a part of life, but it is something that has arguably not kept up with all the advances in technology.
Amazon’s brainchild, Alexa Together, is trying to change this, applying technical solutions to an age-old problem using existing Alexa-compatible devices. Alexa Together can help share care responsibilities for the elderly and vulnerable, and keep everyone in the picture, without compromising your family’s privacy. This is how it works.
What is Alexa Together?
As the name suggests, the AI virtual assistant Amazon Alexa is an integral part of the company’s solution. It’s a subscription service that lets you and up to nine other people share a vulnerable friend or relative’s Alexa account, allowing you to keep tabs on what’s happening in their homes, even if they’re hundreds of miles apart.
As well as introducing new Alexa skills that alert you to their general movements and routines so you can spot anything out of the ordinary, Alexa Together includes a dedicated 24/7 Emergency Response team, who can call emergency services if necessary.
Currently, it is only available in the United States.
How much does it cost?
Alexa Together is a subscription service that costs $19.99 per month or $199 per year, plus any applicable taxes.
But that’s just the cost of the service. You’ll need at least one Echo, and the cheapest new one available is the third-generation Echo Dot (MSRP $40) (opens in a new tab) but to take full advantage of video calling, you’ll need an Echo Show for you and your friend ($85 to $250 depending on size). Note that Amazon is always discounting its products, especially around the holiday season, so this shouldn’t cost you more if you’re in the mood.
If you want fall detection alerts, you’ll need a compatible device. These include the $170 ATS SkyAngelCare pendant (opens in a new tab) and a couple of $250 wall sensors (opens in a new tab).
How does Alexa Together work?
The main way Alexa Together works is by allowing yourself and up to nine other people to have access to a vulnerable person’s Alexa account.
This has several advantages. The first is that you can get a (very general) view of how they are interacting with Alexa over the course of a day. This won’t tell you exactly what they’re up to for privacy reasons, but it will reassure you that they’re up, whether they’re using their echo to listen to music, check the weather or turn on smart release. domestic orders.
Cleverly, you can also make inactivity something to watch out for, with the Alexa app letting you get a notification with the option to call in on their Echo for a check-in chat if not found any activity at expected hours.
Those are the passive benefits of peace of mind, but you can also use Alexa Together to proactively make a difference in the owner’s life. With Remote Assist, you or another assistant can help from your own home, set reminders to take pills, or add items to shopping lists, for example.
What really commands the premium price is the 24/7 Emergency Response team. If the owner is ever in trouble, they can simply say “Alexa, call for help” and a nearby Echo will instantly connect them to trained agents who can offer assistance, no matter the emergency.
They could call 911, of course, but Alexa can’t do that, and this provides a hands-free way to get immediate help. It will also send a notification to assistants and let them know when the call is finished so they can tap into their Echo to find out what happened.
Finally, there is a drop sensor. Unlike the other features, this requires something else – one of a handful of supported devices from Vayyar, SkyAngelCare or AltumView. If these connected devices detect trouble, they will call the aforementioned Emergency Response team without further intervention, getting help for more serious accidents when the owner cannot call for help with his voice.
The main issue with Alexa Together is that it requires the willingness of the person being monitored to interact with the virtual assistant – which is by no means guaranteed. If the friend or relative can’t or won’t contact Alexa, much of the peace of mind is lost, because you can’t see they’re up.
Fortunately, the one-month free trial should give you plenty of time to figure out if it’s right for you, though it does require at least one Echo device. Additionally, to get the most out of it, additional smart home devices will be needed to get a complete picture of a person’s life – which is quite convenient for Amazon’s whole purpose of selling products. In fact, you probably want an echo in most rooms, so that they can always be heard if needed “Alexa, call for help.”
On a side note, for drop detection to work, you’ll need to buy compatible wearables and these can be expensive, ranging from $170 for a pendant to $250 for a camera sensor. The latter is only useful for one room, so the cost can easily spiral.
It’s also worth remembering that these drop alerts require the owner to be in range of the Echo – if they’re in the garden, shops or far away, Alexa won’t let you know anything is wrong. Likewise, because Echos don’t have a cellular connection, if the WiFi goes down, you’ll also be left out of the loop.
Still, the thing to keep in mind with these negatives is that Alexa Together, at $19.99 per month or $199 per year (plus tax), is much cheaper than true, dedicated medical alert systems. And it can be said that a flawed solution is better than nothing.
Alexa Together is definitely an interesting proposition, and a (relatively) cheap way for families to stay in touch with distant relatives, even if they are separated by geography.
But despite Amazon’s efforts to make Alexa intuitive, it’s still not for everyone, and Alexa Together relies on the vulnerable person embracing the slightly odd 21st-century world of an always-listening device in their home. Not everyone will.
However, if you have aging relatives who are open to the idea of smart living at home, and you can afford the monthly cost, then it’s at least worth signing up for the free trial. Worst case scenario: you’ll be taking advantage of Amazon’s 30-day return policy on the Echo.