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Google’s latest acquisition could reduce your trips to the clinic

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GeekWire reports that Google has acquired Senosis, a Seattle-based startup that’s been making mobile apps to identify and monitor health conditions without the need for additional hardware.

Fronted by Shwetak Patel, a computer science and electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, the company has developed tools to detect jaundice in infants and measure hemoglobin in your blood (to screen for diseases like anaemia) using just your phone’s camera.

Another app uses the mic to help diagnose lung problems like asthma and cystic fibrosis. If approved by health regulatory agencies, these apps could make it easy to deploy wellness solutions in developing countries without the need for expensive hardware, testing labs and accompanying personnel.

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The acquisition will likely help Google boost its efforts to tackle health issues as part of the company’s plans for world domination. Its AI firm, DeepMind, has been working on machine learning tech to detect eye conditions and help fight blindness. The search giant also gathers fitness data on users’ phones and from wearable trackers.

It’s worth noting, though, that Google hasn’t commented on the acquisition or said where it will place the Senosis team, which counts a little over a dozen people. GeekWire’s source said that they might be retained in Seattle to work with Google and form the backbone of a digital health project.

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Google Assistant is coming to older Android phones and tablets

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The Google Assistant, Google’s take on Siri, Cortana and Alexa without the approachable name, has long been available on most modern phones and tablets. But given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, many older devices will never get the newer versions of Android that actually feature built-in support for the Assistant. Now, however, Google is bringing support for its voice-activated helper to phones running Android 5.0 Lollipop and tablets running Android 7.0 Nougat and 6.0 Marshmallow.

Lollipop launched back in 2014, so we’re talking about a rather old phone operating system here (Android 8.1 is now standard on Google’s own Pixel phones), but according to Google, more than 26 percent of all Android devices still run some version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Just over 30 percent run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Still, with an update to the Google Play Services, even these older devices will now get access to all the goodies that the Google Assistant promises — and often delivers.

If you still own one of these older Lollipop phones, you should see an update relatively soon. It’ll only be available to users who set their language to English in the U.S., U.K., India, Australia, Canada and Singapore, as well as to those who have set their default language to Spanish in the U.S., Mexico and Spain. Google says it will also roll out to users in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Because the Assistant on these older devices isn’t baked right into the launcher, though, you’ll have to launch the Google Assistant app before you can ask your phone for directions, the weather, recipes or jokes (in case you are feeling sad).

As for Marshmallow and Nougat tablet users, they’ll get the update over the course of the coming week, as long as they are in the U.S. and have set their language to English.
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Google Home learns how to multitask

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Google’s smart speaker got a little smarter this week, with the addition of a multitasking feature. The new capability makes it possible for the device to accomplish two different missions at the same time. It was rolled out with little fanfare and first noted by CNET. We’ve since confirmed the addition with Google.

It’s a bit surprising that the company rolled it out to Home units with no mention. It’s a handy addition to what’s essentially been a single-minded device. The company has been promising to add Routines since the Pixel 2 event a few months back, essentially creating pre-determined scenes that tie a bunch of actions to a command (something that’s been supported by both Siri and Alexa for a while). This is something else, though.

Rather than having to preload all of that via an app, you can simply ask it to perform two jobs simultaneously. Only two, though. Not three or four — that would be flying a little too close to the sun. You also have to separate tasks into individual commands, as the device won’t understand two tasks crammed into the same sentence. Even though it’s limited, the silently released feature is arguably more handy than the forthcoming Routines as it can be accomplished on the fly.

In spite of letting Alexa get a pretty massive head start, Google’s done a pretty solid job playing catch-up to the Echo’s existing skill set. The new one comes as the company readies Home Max, a premium addition to the Home line due out sometime next month.

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Google Assistant can now help you find a plumber and other local services

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Google Assistant is about to get a bit more home-savvy. The voice assistant will be gaining local discovery skills that will help you locate home services nearby. The company specifically detailed that Assistant would be gaining insights to help users locate “nearby services like an electrician, plumber, house cleaner and more.”

Saying something like, “Hey Google, I need a plumber,” will soon help you clarify your problem, pull up results for local services that can help you out of your jam and dial them up for you.

The blog post focused heavily on home services, though the move fits more broadly into Google’s broader strategy of helping Assistant cater results more locally for users. When it comes to real-world stores and services that have yet to be app-disrupted, there’s still a long way for voice assistants to go.

The new functionality will be rolling out to U.S. users this week starting today, and results will be screened in certain cities by Google and services like HomeAdvisor and Porch so you hopefully won’t end up with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Voice assistants on display-less devices like Home fundamentally suck at concisely conveying choices, so Google making the first option the one you want to use is obviously incredibly important.

The updated functionality will be coming to Android phones, Google’s iOS Assistant app and smart devices like Home.
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