Pushin' On: UAB Spinal Cord Injury Model System Digital Newsletter Volume 34 | Number 1 - Page 4

TECHNOLOGY WATCH WHILL (Update) Pushin’ On introduced you to WHILL back in 2013. At that time, it was a power wheelchair prototype with a futuristic design. It offered a four-wheel drive to traverse most terrains, with omni-wheels in front that let them roll forward, back and side-to-side without pivoting. A pair of raised telescoping arms provided a set of controls to steer and drive the wheelchair. The arms also flipped out of the way to make transferring easier. The seat and footplates slid forward and back for improved access. A lot has happened since that early look at the WHILL in development. The biggest news is that the latest Model has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This means that the WHILL can now be prescribed by physicians as a medical device and covered by insurance. The new model includes several new features, including joystick attachment options, arm supports, pressure relief handles, and adjustable back support, that are necessary in medical devices. No power tilt or recline, though. The other big news is the WHILL is featured in the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Check it out, and learn more about the WHILL on the website. http://whill.us/ “Alexa, Make My Smart Home Smarter.” Pushin’ On has featured a lot of app-based technologies that can be useful in controlling your environment. However, app-based products usually require physical effort to use the app on your smartphone or tablet. There are few true “hands-free” controls, and they are usually costly. Amazon is quickly changing things with Echo. Echo is the tech giant’s affordable answer to true hands-free connected smart home. Once everything is setup using the Alexa app, you start controlling things with a simple command, “Alexa...” • Allows hands-free convenience with voice-control • Controls lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices • Plays music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice • Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even with background noise or while music is playing • Answers questions, reads audiobooks and the news, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service • Always getting smarter and adding new features and 4 uab.edu/sci skills--over 100 added since launch, including Domino’s TV control is now limited to FireTV, but Amazon is clearly expanding Echo’s growing list of “skills” and partnerships. Considering Amazon’s history, the future of Alexa looks bright. The top of the line Echo is currently priced at $180. The two new devices are more affordable. The smaller, portable Tap is $130, but you do have to touch or “tap” the device to activate the voice commands. The Dot is $90. The Dot works the same as the higher priced Echo, but it connects via Bluetooth to a home speakers instead of a using a built-in speaker. You can learn more at www.amazon.com/echo