The Spanish Red Cross has developed and released a skill for Alexa that brings together a series of utilities for the general public, and especially, for vulnerable groups such as the elderly. The people who have the Alexa app on their smartphone or an Amazon smart speaker, are now able to contact the Red Cross, receive relevant information or make a specific donation.
During lock down, resulting from the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020, the Spanish Red Cross, Social Technologies Foundation (TECSOS), Accenture and Amazon Spain joined forces to develop a skill for Amazon’s Alexa devices. After a few months of uncertainty, fear, and even loneliness, these companies got down to work in order to calm the situation by providing support through Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa.
Alexa’s Red Cross skill, therefore, relied on the efforts of all parties and was released in less than two weeks, which is considered a record time considering that skills usually take months to develop. The Red Cross skill, in its first months of life, was intended for people with an Alexa device, who wanted to make a one-time donation to the Red Cross RESPONDE plan, as a means to lessen the effects of covid-19. Subsequently, the capabilities were expanded to include access to microlearning on how to prevent the spread of the virus, reduce stress, or even receive a basic first aid tutorial. In addition, an evolution of this Skill was made to feature graphic elements such as illustrations to support first aid training or a section that features fitness videos tailored for seniors.
Technical details & Operations
The Red Cross skill can be easily found in Alexa’s skill finder. In addition, by saying the words “Alexa, open Red Cross” on any Android/ iOS mobile device with the Alexa app installed, or with any Amazon-Alexa smart speaker, can now have accesses to a menu that brings together the following utilities:
– Contact Red Cross
– First aid microlearnings
– Guided fitness videos for seniors
– How to prevent covid-19 infection
– How to reduce stress
– Information on how to volunteer
Moreover, the use of the voice to interact with technology– and as a method to access information– is a commitment from the Spanish Red Cross and the Social Technologies Foundation (TECSOS), that continues to be explored and put into practice. The voice as a way of interacting with technology, allows in many cases, to break the digital gap for older people who sometimes do not have the required digital skills to use touch screens of mobile devices. In addition, it is an accessible tool for people with some types of disabilities such as visual or physical..
The Red Cross skill is an element capable of incorporating improvements and new utilities over time through new updates. The Spanish Red Cross contemplates its constant evolution to adapt to the reality and needs of each moment and incorporates new functionalities that are developed as a response to the demands that arise.
Deployment & Impact
Alexa is the voice assistant with the most presence in homes, with almost 60% of the global smart speaker market. Counting over 100 million active devices worldwide. Due to its accessibility– provided that it’s free and available to everyone– it has a great capacity for expansion as users become aware of its existence.
Since its release, 16,500 users have accessed the utilities of the Red Cross skill. However, as the use of voice assistants continues to grow and a wider range of individuals, including older adults, adopt this technology, the skill is expected to gain even more popularity in the near future.
In order to identify potential sectors that could be targeted, the Spanish Red Cross conducted a study involving elderly individuals with different levels of familiarity with voice technology. A total of 100 Alexa Echo devices were distributed across Spain to volunteers who actively participated in the study. The conclusions of this research were highly interesting, allowing the Spanish Red Cross to advance and expand the opportunities provided by the Spanish Red Cross skill on Alexa, particularly focusing on the elderly and people with disabilities.
The Spanish Red Cross also participates in other projects related to the use of voice assistants by elderly people living alone, which enables the collection of feedback and improvements to the skill, in order to increase its efficiency and appeal to these groups.
This initiative can be considered the first step on humanitarian voice technology, since voice assistants are tools that join several services offered by the Red Cross. The Alexa skill is here to stay and, therefore, joins the multichannel service of the Spanish Red Cross as another element of assistance to citizens.