Norfolk Council Testing Alexa Devices For Social Care

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The county wants to use voice-activated Amazon gadgets to help social care recipients stay independent

Following trials by Hampshire County Council of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to aid people with severe disabilities, Norfolk’s council has said it’s testing technologies including Alexa-based devices and connected doorbells for use in social services.

The gadgets are being trialled by the Norfolk Futures Promoting Independence scheme, which has already deployed sensors, detectors, GPS location deviecs and home activity monitors to around 2,000 people.

The programme aims to prevent problems for elderly and vulnerable people and to help them stay independent for longer, as well as supporting people with complex needs.

The council’s head of information management and technology, Geoff Connell, said it has been testing the use of Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo smart speaker and is looking to make such devices more widely available by the end of this year, according to government technology news site UK Authority.

Amazon’s Echo smart speaker

Connected sensors

The county has distributed some Echo Dot devices to social care recipients and is seeing how they can be linked to sensors and other connected devices.

It’s planning an event facilitated by Amazon to look further into the use of such devices in social care. A proposal has also been sent to the council’s Digital Innovation and Efficiency Committee to set up a demonstration suite or living lab that could shed further light on the technology

Norfolk said it is hoping to use the gadgets out of the box if possible, but is also considering setting them up with additional “skills”, Amazon’s term for add-on personalised voice capabilities.

Quality of life

The Department of Health funded Hampshire last year to carry out a proof of concept for its Alexa project, and the council is working with the Argenti Telehealthcare Partnership to set up devices for 50 social care clients over the course of a 12-month period.

Hampshire said it found such devices can significantly improve quality of life for people with little or no mobility.

The council said it has been linking Alexa devices to other gadgets in the house, such as Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, so that clients are able to operate the television without having to manipulate a physical device.

Voice assistants are set to go beyond consumer devices, with a service called Watson Assistant unveiled by IBM this week.

The service is aimed at businesses such as hotels, rental car companies and banks who want to provide voice-activated, artificially intelligent services to their customers.

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