We may not have flying cars or robot butlers yet, but technology is constantly edging us closer and closer to the world of the future that used to exist only in cartoons like The Jetsons. While many of the latest technology products are marketed primarily as nice-to-have devices that offer entertainment or convenience, there is a whole other application for these items. Wearables and text-to-speech programs and voice-activated devices can be very helpful, but they can be life-changing to someone who is disabled or elderly.
For people with mobility issues, impaired vision, speech disorders, and other challenges, assistive technologies can make all kinds of tasks easier. The ever-growing range of “smart home” devices is an area of particular interest. These primarily voice-activated products offer a novel solution for busy people who feel the need to multitask, but for others they can be a powerful new tool for handling the day-to-day tasks needed to remain independent.
So-called “smart home” technology refers to devices that connect to, monitor, and control physical objects such as thermostats, blinds, security cameras, lighting, music, computers, and so forth. These smart devices are used to manage a broad range of elements including a home’s environment and energy use, ambiance or atmosphere (lighting, music, etc.), entertainment, and security.
This technology also gives users the ability to do things like search the internet, create digital documents, send email and texts, and a myriad of other tasks even if they cannot use a traditional computer or tablet-type interface.
While the world of smart home devices is vast, here are just a few of our favorite product picks that are worth exploring if you or someone you love could use a little extra help with certain tasks around the house.
Digital Assistants — The Brain of the Operation
The two most popular smart home digital assistants are the Amazon Echo (aka “Alexa”) and Google Home. Each of these devices allows you to perform a variety of digital tasks such as performing an internet search, creating to do lists, setting alarms, checking the weather, listening to audio books, making phone calls, playing music, and on and on and on. They also, when connected to various smart home devices, give you the ability to control physical devices such as door locks, lights, window shades, and so forth. Part of the beauty of these devices is that you are able to interact with them in a pretty conversational way. Their AI (artificial intelligence) capacity allows them to understand and respond like a real person as well as learn your preferences over time.
Voice-controlled Lighting — Making Your World Brighter
One of the most popular smart home devices is voice-activated lighting. There are many options, one of which is the Hive Active Light starter kit. These types of products allow you to turn lights on and off via voice commands by using an app that you install on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. In addition, many of these devices can be integrated with either Amazon Echo or Google Home, allowing you to interface with the lighting controls directly through your digital assistant. Many of the companies that manufacture smart home lighting also produce related devices such as voice-controlled thermostats and window shades.
Cleaning Robots — The Precursor to the Robot Butler
No one loves chores, but for people with disabilities or limited mobility or eyesight, chores can be much more challenging. While a cleaning service is sometimes an option, it’s not always the optimal solution. “Robots” that vacuum and even mop floors offer an easy, automated way to keep things spic and span with hardly any effort at all. Originally these devices were pretty basic, but today’s more sophisticated models from companies like Roomba and Shark have sensors to detect which areas have already been cleaned, can be assigned a cleaning schedule, and can even be programmed to return to the charging dock when they need more energy or are done for the day. Again, most models can be integrated with a digital assistant for even greater ease of control.
Smart Watches — Connection and Control Wherever, Whenever
Wearable devices like Apple’s Watch and Fitbit’s Versa allow you to bring your smart home with you, which means you always have what you need right at your fingertips. In addition to enabling remote control of home devices like lights, locks, and security cameras, smart watches make it easy to carry your critical information and reminders with you wherever you go. Need to remember to take a particular medication while on the go? Your smart watch can take care of that. Want to be able to answer texts and even emails while you’re out and about? A wearable device can help you manage that easily.
Speech Recognition Tools — Voice Dictation Software for Writing and Editing
Being able to operate a computer or tablet using a keyboard and mouse or track-pad is something most people take for granted, but for someone with limited use of their arms or hands, or someone with impaired vision, this task can quickly become overwhelming. Speech recognition software allows you to dictate and edit using only voice commands, and some of the available solutions are very sophisticated. The Dragon series of products from Nuance Systems has a particularly rich set of features that not only provide voice-to-text capabilities, but also allow for the detailed editing and sharing of documents. Using AI and other technology, these software programs are able to learn a person’s unique voice over time, enabling ever better accuracy.
Clearly, there is a wide variety of smart home technologies and devices available today. And each of these solutions has the potential to help people solve otherwise daunting everyday tasks, ensuring a greater level of independence and better quality of life. This is what technology is supposed to do, and we’re so glad that it’s fulfilling some of that promise.
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