My wife and I have been in the tech sector for more than 20 years. We are always looking for new technology and how we can apply it to solve problems. We immediately saw the utility of a voice interface for our own aging parents. Both parents had experienced periods of falling and having to wait until someone eventually arrived to assist. Being on fixed incomes, it was difficult to justify paying a large monthly fee for a push button that they likely wouldn't wear. A day or two later I had my own experience with internal bleeding at 3AM and could only muster a single yell to wake my wife about 20 feet away. Fortunately, she was able to summon 911 and I was taken to the hospital. It was then we both noted that the need for help has nothing to do with age or physical ability, and realized that this new voice platform could be an additional tool to help save lives. We do recommend 911, but if you can't reach your phone it doesn't matter. After we released we were inundated with email from various people and groups explaining the security and freedom they derive from the service. One in particular, a paraplegic user, explained that he has a full time caregiver, but she must go shopping or leave the room for other tasks. When she leaves he has great fear that something can go wrong and he has no way to contact her or anyone else. Ask My Buddy solved this for him and provided relief. We have received many more heart warming stories.
What it does
Ask My Buddy is a skill that you enable from the Amazon Alexa companion app. Once enabled, you register or login if you have an existing Ask My Buddy account. You add your contacts name, voice number, cell and email. When you need assistance you can simply ask 'Alexa, Ask My Buddy to send Help' and alerts are sent to all of your contacts. You can also say Alert with the name of a contact as well. The skill also allows users to Check-In with their contacts, sending a message indicating that everything is fine. This feature provides families with peace of mind knowing that their loved one has checked in. It may be a elderly parent who checks in several times a day, or even a student who checks in when arriving home from school. Ask My Buddy does not require the user to have a telephone as all messages and calls are sent from our servers.
How we built it
We built Ask My Buddy leveraging Amazon Alexa sdk, AWS Lambda function and AWS web server. We built the web site, with a web hook tie in that could help maintain Alexa's state and reply with either an error or completion status of the Alert.
Challenges we ran into
Our main challenge was Alexas recognition of names and balancing cost effective EC2 instances with our freemium model.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Our accomplishments to date that we are truly proud of, are being able to offer the basic service free of charge for people that can't afford to pay. We currently have more than 120,000 registered users, have been demonstrated on QVC and HSN numerous times, and been in the top skills for some time. We have conducted seminars to teach how to use our product in large retirement communities and of course provided our own parents with a some additional security.
What we learned
We learned many things, Marketing without money is not easy, your skill/product can get lost in the noise if you aren't proactive. We created a presence on each of the main social media platforms, Twitter, Facebook and the one that I believe had the most impact was YouTube. Not because they actually do anything for you marketing wise, but just a place where you can upload videos that could demonstrate your product. We started using it just to make help video and linked them to our web site help page, but then we began to see that we could expand it to show additional features and how others were using our product.
What's next for Ask My Buddy
We would like to partner with some of the Call center/monitoring companies. We would like to add them as a contact for those customers we have in common and then add additional capability as 911 interfaces become more robust.