The Amazon hardware kit, powered by its Alexa virtual assistant, is used for everything from playing music to controlling various aspects of a user-connected home, telling weather, and more.
Amazon and third-party developers add new "abilities" to Alexa's already impressive library. But what many people do not know is an important limitation of the assistant – something Alexa can not do, at least not right now, even though a user's life may depend on certain circumstances. We are, of course, talking about the possibility to call 911.
Many consumers could easily find themselves in the arms of a person like Bridget Taylor, a 62-year-old woman in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who fell earlier this year after getting out of the tub. Her phone was out of hand and wondered if she could call for Alexa to call 911. Wall Street Journal, who spoke about that episode, explains today why intelligent speakers from Amazon, Google and others – used in about 20 million homes in the US – are facing regulatory and technical challenges to make calls emergency calls.
First of all, paper notes, Internet reliability can be a problem, as well as the importance of transmitting location-specific data and a callback number for emergency respondents.
"Most speakers only offer one-way calls and do not have the same real-time GPS data that smartphones do" WSJ notes. "Even sending caller location data from mobile phones has proven to be a challenge because much of the nation's 911 infrastructure has grown around fixed telephones.
"Creating the ability to call 911 from a smart speaker would require an extra monthly fee of 911 that customers or technology companies should pay to support emergency call infrastructure. Monthly currents 911 tariffs vary by state or of the county, but typically ranges from $ 0.25 to $ 3.00 and are included in consumer fixed and wireless telephony bills. "
The paper continues to report that, according to a spokesman for Amazon, Echo Connect can make emergency calls because it may be related to fixed telephony or other home telephony services. The Echo and Echo Dot standards, however, can not.
Dan Henry, director of government business in the 911 industrial group, the National Emergency Numbers Association, told WSJ he supports adding emergency calls to smart speakers only if the devices are able to provide location information and a callback number.