I have been auditioning a small “voice controlled speaker” for several months. To say it is a “speaker” is a misnomer. It connects to your WiFi, responds to your voice, and replies with information it finds on the web based on what you say. Mine is a small one from Amazon called the “echo dot”. I purchased one during a holiday promotion for $29.99 (the price fluctuates and today is running $49.99 for a newer model). I gave that one to my nephew, who has symptoms resembling autism, and speech difficulties. He fell in love with the gadget, and got it talking about all kinds of things.
So… I’ve been testing my own now for several months, and it’s far more useful than I would’ve thought. The voice recognition works very well. I say “Alexa [that’s apparently her name], play WAMU radio”, and she starts playing. I say “Alexa, stop.”, and the speaker stops. I say “Alexa, what is the weather for today?”, and she gives a brief forecast for my neighborhood. I say “Alexa, what is the weather in Paris?”, and she knows that too. “Alexa, what it the distance between here and Boston?” (393 miles), or “Alexa, in what year was President Lincoln born?”, she responds “Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.” She can also play music, if asked politely. You don’t have to shout, just conversational voice is recognized, as long as you start with “Alexa”, however, if you are in another part of the house, and have to shout, she seems to get that pretty well, too.
My nephew’s favorites might be more on the silly side, since he discovered she can tell silly jokes. “Alexa, tell me a joke about cows.”, and she has one ready.
These ‘speakers’ can also connect with other devices around the house to enable voice commands for tasks like turning on the TV, adjusting lighting, adjusting temperature. Those connections may require additional hardware, but they open up a lot of accessibility options.
There are several brands (Amazon and Google are the most recognized) offering these devices in various price ranges, and may be also offered in kits to expand their functionality around the house. The setup for the Amazon ‘echo dot’ was very easy – a simple guide tells you how to connect it to your WiFi, and then you just start talking.
Please share your experience if you’ve tried one of these!