If you think Amazon’s virtual assistant Echo can help you with only a handful of tasks, think again. The voice-recognition device is equipped with nearly 10,000 so-called skills (some dubious), allowing people to use the gadget in ways that perhaps even the developers hadn’t considered.
Here are some unexpected places where the Echo, more popularly known as Alexa, is being used. (Hint: Don’t be surprised at your next doctor’s visit.)
Boston Children’s Hospital is so enamored with the virtual assistant that it created the KidsMD app. Nurses use KidsMD to ask Alexa the dosage of certain medications to give youngsters based on their temperature and age. Parents can use the app at home to, say, help determine which illness a child might have by telling Alexa the symptoms.
One pediatrician at the hospital said the device could be used to record patients as they describe their symptoms, according to an article on Stat News. Patients often have to repeat such information as many as six times to various nurses and doctors. Now the medical professionals can simply say “Alexa, repeat.”
KidsMD also could record discharge instructions and respond to questions that patients might be too embarrassed to ask.
The article points out the potential for the device to be hacked—a “top concern with technology like this for patient safety,” according to the hospital’s software engineer.
The city of Los Angeles is leveraging Alexa to help engage its residents with the municipal government and alert them about nearby social activities. With the L.A. City app, residents can access a schedule of events such as City Council meetings and concerts. Users simply say, “Alexa: Ask L.A. City what’s happening this weekend for the family” to find out about activities of interest.
Although the app is limited to locating events, further enhancements include a 311 functionality—the number that residents use to report problems to city officials, such as potholes and public safety issues. Users also could use this feature to check on the status of community initiatives and locate social services.
Utah’s Division of Motor Vehicles has taken advantage of the Echo by creating an app equipped with practice questions for driving tests. In Mississippi, residents can access the myMS app to check their registration and license expiration dates as well as ask Alexa about state facts and the current governor.
If you’re looking to turn family game night into a more high-tech affair (and not worry about losing the dice under the couch), Alexa can help with that, too. The next time you play Monopoly, you can say, “Alexa, roll two dice” and the assistant will respond with two randomly generated numbers between one and six. This feature makes it more difficult to cheat, and there’s never a need to roll again because the dice fell on the floor.
And if you prefer a diversion with higher stakes, Alexa has several blackjack skills that let you sharpen your game while tracking your winnings or losings. It will say out loud which virtual cards you hold. You can then speak to Alexa as you would a dealer, and you can ask it for suggestions on what to do with the hand, such as to hit or split.
Other Echo-enabled activities include trivia, spelling bees, and adventure games.