Amazon Alexa Smart Home

Family or friends in self-isolation? Here’s how to monitor them remotely with Amazon Alexa

self-isolation Alexa
Monitoring device: Alexa lets you drop in on family and friends

It appears a large part of the population – particularly the elderly – are set for a sustained period of self-isolation because of coronavirus. As much as we might want to visit people, particularly those who are suffering, that would of course defeat the object. However, there is a way to stay in close contact – and check up on ill friends and family without them having to do anything – with Amazon Alexa devices.

How to ‘drop in’ with Amazon Alexa

Amazon Echo speakers and screens have a facility that allows trusted family and friends to ‘drop in’. The person wishing to make contact simply tells their Alexa device or app to “drop in on Uncle Ted”, for example, and a connection is made right away. The receiver doesn’t have to answer a call – a live audio or video connection is made right away, depending on whether the devices are fitted with cameras or not.

What if the recipient has multiple Alexa devices? How does it know which one to drop in on? The Echo speakers are constantly listening for sounds of life using their internal mics. You will drop in on the device on which Alexa last heard background noise. Clever, eh?

Although clearly not designed for this specific purpose, this is a great way to keep tabs on sick friends or family who may not even be able to get out of bed. They can put an Alexa device in their bedroom and know they are no more than a voice command away from a loved one – they can, of course, drop in on you if they need to, or place an ordinary Alexa call.

Alexa devices also let you make free calls to landline and mobile devices, so even if you’re not at home, the self-isolating person should be able to reach you.

To set up the ‘drop in’ feature on yours and your family members’ devices, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your smartphone and open the Contacts section. Presuming you’ve already synced your smartphone contacts with Alexa (you’ll be prompted to do so if you haven’t), you should see a list of all your friends and family.
  2. Open the contact of the person you wish to let ‘drop in’ on your devices and select the option that says Allow Drop In under Permissions (see screenshot below).
  3. Now call the person you wish to be able to drop in on and ask them to do the same in their own app.
  4. To test it’s working, issue the following command to an Alexa device: “Alexa, drop in on [contact’s name].” You must say the name as it appears in your address book.
  5. To end the session, just say: “Alexa, end call”.

The dangers of ‘drop in’

Whilst the ‘drop in’ facility is great for caring for self-isolating folk, there are a few gotchas to watch for.

First, as clever as that background listening facility is, the person you ‘drop in’ on might not be in the same room as a speaker. Or they might be otherwise engaged. Don’t panic if you can’t immediately raise someone.

It’s also a privacy stripper, quite literally if you drop in on someone with a camera-fitted device in their bedroom. You may want to flick the camera shield over on your device at night or when you’re getting changed, so that someone can’t accidentally drop in on you half-naked!

NOW READ THIS: Can you make 999 calls from Alexa?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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