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ALEXA: My name is Alexa.
NELLY: I’m Nelly.
JAKE: I’m Jake.
JENNY: Hi, I’m Jenny.
WADE WINGLER: And I’m Wade, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Welcome to episode number 289 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on December 9 of 2016.
Today we are going to do something special: we have a new Amazon echo and an Amazon dot in our house, the Wingler household, and I’m going to spend some time talking with my wife, my kids – my five-year-old and four-year-old – about how it’s really impacted our life in the real world. We are taking a step back from our regular format today to cover this special content, and then the next three weeks throughout the end of the calendar year we are going to feature a replay of a special we did a few years ago called iPad high. It’s a three-part show where we highlighted a school in Danville, Indiana, that converted from textbooks to iPads and what the process was like, how it was implemented, what the pros were, what the cards were cut and what looked like a year after that. Back in January after the new year in 2017 we will be back with our regular format and hope to see you all then.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and we will see you in 2017. Enjoy this special content.
WADE WINGLER: Thanks for listening. Did you also know you can listen to the show on iTunes, the podcast app on iOS, android Google Play Store, TuneIn radio, or Stitcher radio? In fact just about anywhere you can get a podcast. If you have a minute, leave a review or click stars. It helps people find our show and we truly appreciate it.
WADE WINGLER: This is an unusual setting. I am not in my studio. I am sitting in my kitchen with my beautiful wife. Hey, baby doll.
JENNY WINGLER: Hi.
WADE WINGLER: This is my wife Jenny, and we are going to talk today about the new person in our home, the new lady in our life, Amazon Alexa, or Amazon echo and Alexa. This is something we’ve had in our house for a couple of weeks now, and we are going to talk a little bit about what it has done and how we’ve responded to it. Amazon echo is not necessarily an assistive technology product, but it’s showing up in lots of assistive technology conversation because of the things that it does.
If you’re not aware, Amazon echo is a product that you can buy for about $180. You get it from Amazon or a lot of big box retailers like Best Buy and Home Depot. You can get it about anywhere that does electronics, online, and Amazon is a great way to do that. I don’t know it’s everywhere to call it. It’s kind of a personal assistant, media Center. It does all kinds of things. It’s a tube, looks like a big lack can of Pringles –
JENNY WINGLER: A cylinder.
WADE WINGLER: Yeah, like a can of Pringles. It has some holes around the bottom. It’s a speaker. On the top it has a colored ring that at the moment is red because I’ve got it muted. I don’t want it responding when I talk to it. It gives you different colors and has a button on the top to activate. It’s got a knob on the top four volume. It does all kinds of interesting things. It is really become a toy but a functional tool in our home. What else would you say to describe the Amazon echo?
JENNY WINGLER: When you first brought it home, I thought it was just a Bluetooth speaker. Little did I know. It’s a Bluetooth speaker also. You can pair it with spotify and other things. That was my thought, great car we can have – you had gotten yourself a Bluetooth speaker and we can carry it around to different rooms and stuff. I thought this was just a permanent thing. It’s much more than that.
WADE WINGLER: Much more. When you have an Amazon echo, there are some things – you get an app that comes on your phone, it works on your android or iPhone. It has some different things in it. There are smart home features that we will talk about that allows you to control thermostats and lights and power outlets and things like that. There is a shopping and to do list function that allows you to add things to your shopping list or to do list. Very easy for setting timers and alarms and doing math and conversions four teaspoons two cups and ounces and things like that. There is a music and books section that allows you to play your streaming music. And there is an app on your phone you used to configure it when you’re not voice controlling the Amazon echo.
Before we jump into the functionality, what we have in our house is a set up where we have an Amazon echo, the full version downstairs, and it sits on the half wall between our kitchen and living room which means most of the downstairs is accessible to it so you can be pretty well anywhere downstairs and talk to it and it will hear you. You got it connected to our Wi-Fi. We also have a spotify premium account set up so that we can play our music on it. It’s a shared family spotify premium account so we have different profiles that we can all have access to. We also have a couple of TP bulbs and TP outlets – that’s the brand name – set up in our house so that we can use Amazon echo with a fan and some lights and things like that. We have pretty good Wi-Fi throughout our house. That’s the configuration. We also have a second unit, a dot, upstairs in our bedroom that we use for playing music and controlling some things up there. We will talk about it a little bit. I wanted you to have the technical specifications so that you can know how our setup works with Amazon echo.
What does it do? What do we use the thing for?
JENNY WINGLER: I would say that you and the kids are the biggest users –
WADE WINGLER: Because we are nerds.
JENNY WINGLER: — of the echo and dot. I enjoy it, I will say, but I haven’t gotten the full use from it I don’t think. I’m more hesitant to just talk to it because there is already so much noise going on during the day when I’m at home with the kids. I do enjoy adding items to my shopping list. I enjoy playing spotify from it. I set timer sometimes. Mostly it’s the kid to talk to her – it – during the day.
WADE WINGLER: I’m going to unmute it. Give us a couple of examples of things you might use it for.
JENNY WINGLER: Alexa, set a timer for three minutes.
ALEXA: Three minutes, starting now.
JENNY WINGLER: Alexa, cancel timer.
ALEXA: Three minutes timer canceled.
JENNY WINGLER: Alexa, how many ounces in two cups?
ALEXA: Two cups is 16 fluid ounces.
JENNY WINGLER: Alexa, play Christmas classics on spotify.
ALEXA: Classical Christmas from spotify.[SINGING]
JENNY WINGLER: It starts with a quite song. Alexa, pause music. Alexa, add earrings to my shopping list.
ALEXA: I added earrings to your shopping list.
JENNY WINGLER: You know, Christmas. Shopping lists, timers, it’s great when the kids are arguing over a toy and I can say, all right, you have two minutes with it and the timer will go off. That’s pretty much what I use it for.
WADE WINGLER: I use it for similar kinds of things. Here’s how my morning sounds when I come downstairs. I walked downstairs, come downstairs before everybody else is up, and the first thing I say is, Alexa, turn on the living room light.
WADE WINGLER: And it turns on the living room light. Can also say things like, Alexa, set the living room light to 50 percent and it dims the light down.
JENNY WINGLER: You’ve got a special lightbulb to work with that, correct?
WADE WINGLER: It’s a TP dimming light bulb that I bought off of Amazon during the Black Friday specials. I think I got it for $15 or $20 or something like that. The next thing I said to her as I’m milling around getting my breakfast ready is, Alexa, play NPR news.
ALEXA: Getting the latest episode of NPR hourly news summary. Here it is from tune in.
ANNOUNCER: Live from NPR news in Washington, I’m Jack Spear. Authorities in Oakland, California, now say –
WADE WINGLER: I usually let that play for just a little while and get the hourly update. The next thing I do is listen to music. The NPR came from tune in radio. The next thing I do also comes from NPR. I say, Alexa, play WKLU.
ALEXA: 101.9 K-Love radio WKLU from tune in.[MUSIC]
WADE WINGLER: Alexa, pause.[MUSIC STOPS]
WADE WINGLER: That’s one of our local radio stations on tune in radio. It picks up as well through the tune in radio app that is already built into Amazon echo. The things that come built into it are the Amazon music service, if you have an Amazon prime account. The things you need for your shopping list you just add things and it shows up on an app on your smartphone, which is great for us, because throughout the week we will say add this to the shopping list, and then when we are out shopping we usually do that as a family, we both have the app open and are checking things off of our shopping list as we are out.
JENNY WINGLER: It’s the Amazon Alexa app. The other thing I like to do is she has daily deals available, exclusive Amazon deals. We will say Alexa can’t tell me your deals today.
ALEXA: I have several exclusive deals today including natural coconut water, pack of 12, $14.33 total, after a discount of $9.55. Would you like to buy it?
JENNY WINGLER: No.
ALEXA: Okay. My other deal is Garth Brooks ultimate hits on CD, it’s $1.72 total with tax after discount of $6.08. Would like to buy it?
JENNY WINGLER: No thank you. I think I had that one when I was a teenager.
ALEXA: Check been daily. I got great deals all holiday season. You can also see all of my exclusive deals at Amazon.com/AlexaDeals.
JENNY WINGLER: We did buy batteries once.
WADE WINGLER: We got 20 AA batteries for five dollars, delivered. It was a really good deal. Sometimes there are some pretty good deals.
JENNY WINGLER: Rights.
WADE WINGLER: The other thing it does is it will interface with your spotify or Pandora or Amazon music. It will also read your Audible books or even any Kindle books you might have. If it’s an Audible book, it will read it in the record the voice. If it’s a Kindle book, it will read it in a text to speech voice so the synthesized voice. My expectations when I surprised us with it – this is something I do sometimes. I show up with new technology and say we are going to do something new and different – was mostly to be able to have it set timers and play music and things like that. I wanted to play around with home automation features. I yearn for a nest thermostat but it’s not compatible with our furnace system here, so I can’t have one of those. I was disappointed because it wouldn’t. We’ve been doing some lights and a fan and other things with it as well. Talk to us a little bit about the lights. You use it at night in our bedroom. There is one in our bedroom, the dot, the smaller one. By the way, there really doesn’t seem to be much difference between the full echo and the dot except for the speaker. The dot seems to do everything that the echo does. The echo just sounds better, has a nice figure on it.
JENNY WINGLER: The echo has the volume as a turning wheel at the top and the dot has buttons that you use for the volume. My experience with it, I have a love-hate relationship with this device. He wanted to put the Christmas tree –
WADE WINGLER: Because I wanted to say turn on the Christmas spirit. She’s rolling her eyes right now.
JENNY WINGLER: I said no, I do not want you to automate my Christmas tree. I don’t want to say turn on the Christmas spirit every time I have to turn on the Christmas tree. It’s so awful. I enjoyed it. It’s fine. We said different things. You had programmed the lights to say turn on the living room lamp. I don’t call it a lamp. I say turn on the living room light. We had to tweak that a little bit. Also, if you are I have fallen asleep already upstairs and the light is still on, then we have to talk to it to turn off the light and it wakes you up. That’s inconvenient. It’s nice that I don’t have to get out of bed to turn off and on when I’m in bed and cozied up.
WADE WINGLER: You are one of those people who has to have a fan running in the room to sleep.
JENNY WINGLER: Right. It’s nice I can tell it from my bed to turn on. The other thing is, if you have the music on and the time gets too loud, it’s really hard for Alexa to hear you as you’re trying to get her attention to stop the music. Just yesterday Jake was [raised voice] Alexa, volume ten! Play thunderstruck! Came on so loud and both kids have their hands over their ears and were like, mom, stop! [Shouting] Alexa! Alexa! Turn it down! She couldn’t hear me so I had to turn the thing off. That was stressful. It gets out of hand sometimes.
WADE WINGLER: Sometimes it does. I’ll say something about the fan, by the way, because we have an inexpensive oscillating fan that has for five and that it’s cut the blister styled pushbuttons. I had to figure out how to activate the thing because I think it has an infrared remote but we lost that a long time ago. I sort of figured out that if you hook that fan to a smart plug which you can get for $15 or $20, and you plug the fan into it, and you hold the power button down with your finger and use Alexa to turn the smart plug on and off, it’s fine, but you can’t sit there with your finger on the button all the time. I ended up getting a round piece of wood and pushing it on the button like my finger was there and I took some masking tape and tape it around the fan so that bun was always in the same place. Eventually I had to put a rubber band around it because the masking tape wouldn’t hold it tight enough against the button to make that bun stay depressed the whole time. Between masking tape and a rubber band around it, it holds that bun. Now we can say Alexa, turn on the bedroom fan, and it will turn it on and off and those kinds of things.
We don’t have everything hooked to it because that would drive you nuts.
JENNY WINGLER: That would drive me crazy. But I can see the usefulness of it if I were single or living by myself or didn’t have little kids who constantly wanted to say the opposite of whatever I had just had to Alexa. That would be lovely. For me personally, I wouldn’t want everything on it. It’s a lot of noise. Again, I can see the practical application if you are an adult with a disability who needs some of those accommodations. It would be really good for some of this stuff.
WADE WINGLER: I guess it’s worth saying that you and I don’t have any physical disabilities and are not using it for any adaptive purposes, mostly for home automation and convenience and music.
JENNY WINGLER: Sure.
WADE WINGLER: Are there things that we wish that it would do that it doesn’t?
JENNY WINGLER: For laundry and wash dishes.
WADE WINGLER: Make hot wings.
JENNY WINGLER: Alexa, cook dinner, wrap presents. Let me think about that for a minute. There are times when it just doesn’t understand the language, or we say things in a different way, and I wish it would be better about that. But I bet in the coming years it will get better. Our five-year-old has a bit of a speech –
WADE WINGLER: He has a speech challenge a little bit.
JENNY WINGLER: So he calls her “Awexa, turn on the wights” and she gets it. That’s good. She picks up one he says “Awexa” instead of Alexa, which I think is pretty impressive. He gets to enjoy it even though he says his L‘s like W‘s.
WADE WINGLER: That’s right. The thing is always plugged in and is always on so you don’t have to worry about activating. It’s always connected to the Internet. Whenever we don’t use it, it downloads upgrades and it does get better at stuff. They continue to add personality to it. They keep adding skills to it all the time. If you haven’t messed with one, skills are basically apps. It has a skill store which is like an app store, and you go in and can download those and add all kinds of things to it. The kids here in a little bit are going to demonstrate their favorite skills. We’ve added a Bible app so it will read versus when we ask it to do that. What other kinds of apps?
JENNY WINGLER: There is a food network app where you can get recipes. We have the magic door app. You can do sound machines, thunderstorm sounds. There is daily inspirations. Workout, seven minute workout.
WADE WINGLER: You can play 20 questions with it.
JENNY WINGLER: The Seinfeld fan trivia. That’s hilarious. There’s a bartending app if you are making cocktails or something like that.
WADE WINGLER: They keep adding more all the time. There are stars on the app store and reviews see you can read and see what people think about them.
JENNY WINGLER: Or facts. We need to double that for the kids. They would like that.
WADE WINGLER: I put two of them in the house and I was thinking about it when I did that. In retrospect, do you feel we use both of them or need both of them?
JENNY WINGLER: I don’t think we need either of them. But they are fun. We could’ve been just fine if we would’ve gotten them, but they are a fun device. It’s not a need by any means. It was a fun purchase. If they went away tomorrow, it would be okay.
WADE WINGLER: More eye rolling.
JENNY WINGLER: We could live without them. That’s no problem. It’s definitely a luxury thing for us. But they are fun and we enjoy them and there are some features that are pretty cool. I like the feature of letting it read books to me. If I had more quiet time, maybe I would utilize that more, but I did not.
WADE WINGLER: I know one of the reasons Amazon created this – they have lots of reasons – is they want people to spend more money with Amazon. Do you think that is happening with us or it will happen with us?
JENNY WINGLER: It depends on if they make these daily deals more awesome.
WADE WINGLER: Not so much Garth Brooks greatest hits?
JENNY WINGLER: Garth Brooks and coconut water. That’s not cool.
WADE WINGLER: We did buy batteries.
JENNY WINGLER: We did buy some batteries. I’m trying to think of something I would totally say yes to, some kind of shoe.
WADE WINGLER: Essential oils.
JENNY WINGLER: Amazon, are you hearing this? I don’t know that we have spent more. We will always renew our prime membership because we do use Amazon prime a lot throughout the year and it is very much worth it for us. Don’t you have to subscribe to their music service. Their full music service has a small charge. We want use that because we do spotify which was nice that they integrated that. I forget the question. Are we spending more money?
WADE WINGLER: Are we spending more money on Amazon.
JENNY WINGLER: I don’t think we are. I have one other quick question. We might have to put this in a different part of the show. Is there different amounts of memory on these things?
WADE WINGLER: No there is not. Because they are online all the time, they are a cloud-based device. You don’t upgrade them. They do have memory in them because they are recording speech, but you buy the echo and that and those are your options.
What we are going to do next is let the kids come in here and demonstrate their favorite things because they talk to Alexa more than we do. I’m going to close out the show with the kids playing with Alexa and talking about that. If you want to learn more about Amazon echo, it’s simple. You go to Amazon.com/echo and you will find the information that you want. There are communities of people talking about it. We hope in an upcoming show to have more people talking about more of the assistive technology applications. It’s becoming the hub for DIY home automation. We hope to have another show coming up here specifically focusing on that. I just wanted in this pre-holiday season to show what’s happening with Amazon echo in the Wingler household so that you guys can get some insight into it.
JENNY WINGLER: That have jeopardy which is pretty fun.
WADE WINGLER: Maybe after we record, we can install jeopardy.
JENNY WINGLER: I already did.
WADE WINGLER: Jenny Wingler, thank you so much for being on the show today.
JENNY WINGLER: I was happy to be a helper today.
WADE WINGLER: Merry Christmas
JENNY WINGLER: Merry Christmas.
WADE WINGLER: Guys, we are going to talk today. What is this new thing we have in our house?
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa.
WADE WINGLER: What does she do?
NELLY WINGLER: When we tell something to her, she does it.
WADE WINGLER: Show me something that she can do.
NELLY WINGLER: Alexa, play Jingle Bells.
ALEXA: Jingle Bells by Dean Martin from spotify.[MUSIC]
WADE WINGLER: Tell me something else she can do.
NELLY WINGLER: Alexa can’t stop.[MUSIC STOPS]
WADE WINGLER: Jake, why don’t you see what you can make her do?
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa, ask for a fart.
ALEXA: [FART NOISE] [LAUGHTER]
WADE WINGLER: Jake, can you make her do another thing? What else can you make her do?
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa, play Thunderstruck.
ALEXA: Thunderstruck by AC/DC from Spotify.[MUSIC]
WADE WINGLER: Do you like that song?
JAKE WINGLER: Yeah.
WADE WINGLER: Is that your favorite song?
JAKE WINGLER: Oh yeah. Alexa, pause.
WADE WINGLER: What else can you make it do, Nelly?
NELLY WINGLER: Let me hold it. Alexa, ask for a double fart.
ALEXA: Hmm, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.
WADE WINGLER: We’ve done enough of those. Can you make it do anything else?
NELLY WINGLER: Alexa, bake something.
WADE WINGLER: She doesn’t know. Oh, can you put pickles on the grocery list since you love pickles?
NELLY WINGLER: Alexa, put pickles on the grocery list.
ALEXA: I added pickles to your shopping list.
WADE WINGLER: Excellent. What’s the other thing you guys have been doing in the morning?
NELLY WINGLER: Alexa, open the magic door.
ALEXA: [DOOR CREAKS OPEN] Welcome back to the Bluff Adventure. And then turn hanging on the branch of a large pine tree illuminates three interesting things in front of us, a wooden sign below it —
WADE WINGLER: Alexa, stop. Do you like Alexa?
JAKE WINGLER: Yes.
NELLY WINGLER: Yes.
WADE WINGLER: Why?
JAKE WINGLER: Because we can ask her something every day.
NELLY WINGLER: Yes, and especially, Alexa, how many days till Christmas?
ALEXA: There are 19 days until Christmas day.
WADE WINGLER: Does that make you happy?
NELLY WINGLER: Oh yeah! Alexa, sneeze.
WADE WINGLER: She doesn’t know how to do that. You guys like to try to get her to do different things don’t you?
NELLY WINGLER: Yeah.
WADE WINGLER: Anymore songs you want to play before you finish this up?
JAKE WINGLER: Twinkle twinkle little star!
WADE WINGLER: Tell her.
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa, play twinkle twinkle little star.
ALEXA: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Bed Time Baby from Spotify.
JAKE WINGLER: Bed Time Baby![MUSIC]
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa, stop.
WADE WINGLER: Thanks guys.
JAKE WINGLER: You’re welcome.
NELLY WINGLER: Bye. We were supposed to do a song.
WADE WINGLER: You’re going to sing? Do it.
JAKE WINGLER: Alexa, play thunderstruck.
ALEXA: Thunderstruck by AC/DC from Spotify.[MUSIC] [CHILDREN SINGING]
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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