"Hey Alexa / Siri, What's My Blood Sugar?"
Amazingly, that's not a question going unanswered by our technology anymore.
Thanks to Apple's Siri, Amazon Echo + Alexa, and Google Home, voice recognition technology that was once tough to find and reserved solely for the visually impaired is now going more mainstream. It responds to voice commands to accomplish everything from conducting an Internet search to playing music to controlling your smart home -- and now, delving into healthcare tasks as well, offering more ways to connect and share health data in real-time.
And it's gaining even more steam with the recent announcement that Pharma giant Merck is teaming up with Amazon to explore voice-enabled solutions specifically for diabetes.
The Alexa Diabetes Challenge
In February, Merck announced it will sponsor an open innovation challenge in conjunction with Amazon Web Services and New York-based innovation consultancy Luminary Labs. The goal: a call to entrepreneurs, techies, and industry types to create open solutions for these voice-tech tools to help people with chronic conditions. Diabetes is first on the list, of course.
The Alexa Diabetes Challenge will launch in April and run through late summer, according to Luminary Labs. More info will be published online once the challenge launches next month, but Luminary tells us the initial focus will be type 2 diabetes, though they will certainly welcome T1D ideas. The challenge calls for prototypes that demonstrate future potential for voice services to help PWDs (people with diabetes), with an eye to meeting HIPAA requirements and making sure all compliance boxes are checked as to privacy concerns.
“Users will soon go far beyond turning on lights or calling an Uber, and will venture deeper into healthcare, helping people better manage treatments and communicate with caregivers," according to Luminary's website. "From reminding people of their nutrition plans to scheduling reminders for insulin dosages, the Merck-sponsored Alexa Challenge will call on developers to push the boundaries of voice technology for people with diabetes."
Interesting stuff, and we can't wait to see what comes from this once the D-Community begins to chime in!
Talking D-Tech Around the DOC
Thanks to the #WeAreNotWaiting grassroots innovation movement in our own D-Community, talking diabetes tech is already underway.
Scrolling through Twitter, Facebook feeds, and forums, it appears there are at least a couple dozen people across the world already developing clever uses for homemade talking D-Tech. This extends from tools that simply recite BG results or trends, to more sophisticated aspects of closed loop functionality. The do-it-yourselfers "in the know" say there isn't yet a good way to get push notifications from devices that automatically tell you BGs without the user first asking; it's all pretty much a custom set of "pull" notifications that react you ask Siri/Alexa/Google Home for your current BG readings and trend data. Though word is, some are finding work-arounds to allow Alexa to automatically say BG numbers every 15 minutes... fascinating!
Here's a sampling of what some in the DOC have said about this Talking D-Tech, from their personal experiences:
Longtime type 1 Melissa Lee in California, who is a longtime DOC friend and now works for Bigfoot Biomedical, has been using Alexa for about five months for data-sharing, ever since her brilliant engineering husband Kevin Lee decided to take on the task as a quick weekend project.
"I find that I use it most when I'm on the move around my home, like in the middle of cooking or cleaning house," she tells us. "I might feel a rise or a drop and use Alexa to report to me on my status. The most useful feature is the ability to hear a prediction of where I'll be in 15 minutes without having to pull out a graph and make those predictions myself. It takes a little of that analysis time out of my way and lets me continue doing what I was doing."
Fellow type 1 and blogger Sarah Kaye in South Carolina penned a Diabetes Daily post that chronicles how our D-Community's been embracing this talking tech and shares how it's been working out for her.
"Being a busy work-from-home mom, I often have my hands full and don’t always have my phone with me to check my Dexcom. Now all I need to do is say the command and Alexa answers," she writes. "All in all, pretty awesome device. While I am still learning everything that Alexa can do, I appreciate being able to simply speak a command and know my glucose levels, all while never having to break stride from what I’m doing at the time. It certainly amplifies both the coolness and usefulness that Alexa can bring to your home."
D-Mom Kim Wyatt McAnnally in Alabama has tapped into the speaking-capability of Nightscout and the xDrip app for data-sharing, using it in their household mostly at night-time for their T1 son Jackson, diagnosed seven years ago. "I use my Pebble watch for most of his monitoring, but when the power goes out, or I'm busy and want a reminder without glancing at my wrist all the time, I turn on the voice option in the xDrip app. If the power goes out, his tablet can't upload to the Internet (the battery backup to our Wi-Fi can only beep so much before it drives me batty!) so I can't get readings on my Pebble. That's when I either turn the sound up and leave it in its normal place outside his room, or I bring it into the living room with me. Then it reads every bg reading aloud, allowing me to concentrate on other things, while keeping me updated on his glucose levels."
In Ontario, D-Mom and Nightscout programmer Kate Farnsworth is using Alexa not only for data-sharing but also in her homemade closed loop system:
"We started using Alexa right around Christmas when one of my good friends sent us two from the US. At first we set it up so that we could ask Alexa how my daughter was doing and Alexa would tell us her BG, trend, insulin on board, etc. from Nightscout. It was a novelty really since I already have that information on my watch. The really useful part was when I programmed Alexa to trigger different OpenAPS targets for my daughter's pump. It is much easier to say 'Alexa, trigger eating soon' while I am cooking dinner than it was to pull out my phone or watch to do the same. This sets my daughter's insulin pump to 4.4mmol (80mg/dL) for an hour, sort of like a pre bolus. We also have higher workout targets set as well. It has been very helpful. I hope to figure out more ways to use Alexa to help our family."
Connecticut D-Mom Samantha Merwin says her family occasionally asks Amazon Alexa to help share data for their 10-year-old son Logan, who was diagnosed at 17 months old.
"We try not to obsessively ask (Logan) to check his blood sugars at the house, unless he's running uncharacteristically low or high. We sometimes find it a pain to go grab our phone and check the Dexcom Share app, so we have Alexa in our kitchen and we just ask her what Logan's BG is," she tells us. "We all think it's kind of fun, but I don't think it's a necessary part of our day-to-day management. I like the convenience, that we can get his BG through our Apple watches, but we don't use them in the house."
On a related note, Samantha laughs at how her family currently makes more use of the Tile app to track down missing diabetes devices.
"The Tile app is more fun, as the kid loses his receiver in our house at least once a week. No one with a T1D child should be without it," she said.
Head-Spinning Tech Innovation
Wow, it's mind-blowing to see how fast technology is progressing, and hear how D-families are already making use of speech recognition tools alongside the advanced sensors and algorithms coming out faster and faster these days.
With current headlines blaring unrealistic claims of wiretapped microwaves and smart TVs, plus the actual reality of Bluetooth-enabled devices and medtech that connects to the cloud and is getting smarter by the day, it can all be a bit overwhelming at times.
But no doubt there is huge potential for good. And it seems the Alexa Diabetes Challenge could really strengthen what's already being done -- possibly offering more insight on the data being shared, assuming that's something regulatory folks all allow. We also love how this all opens up more doors for technology to help PWDs with visual impairments, a real unmet need with so many PWDs experiencing complications like diabetic eye disease and retinopathy.
We can't wait to see what else is on the horizon...
"Hey Alexa, what's next in diabetes technology?"
Hopefully, all this talking technology will continue to be helpful -- without taking on any attitude re: High and Low blood sugars, right?!