CNBC has learned that the company has built a “health and wellness” division within its Alexa team, with over a dozen people working on the project. The aim is to have Alexa serve people with diabetes and provide assistance to new mothers, in addition to the feature set of timer setting and fart noise making it’s adept at now.
In terms of the team involved, CNBC reports names such as Missy Krasner (formerly Box and Google), Larry Ockene (“veteran Amazon engineer”) and Yvonne Chou who has spent time on the Prime team. The team is reportedly led by Rachel Jiang, who has worked across various Amazon divisions including ads, shopping and Alexa Domains - the name of the group this secret team apparently falls under.
Amazon is becoming more focussed on healthcare, and back in January announced it was partnering with JP Morgan to provide pharmaceuticals for its workforce, helping to undercut the high costs of prescriptions in the US. While it recently shelved those plans, it led to immediate speculation that Amazon could disrupt the power of big-pharma and distribution of drugs. While a totally separate issue, it’s clear that Amazon has one eye on health.
In the case of a wellness-focused Alexa, the challenges are data-driven. The team will not only have to craft useful health outcomes that Alexa can assist with – which could involve advising on symptoms and first aid - but also navigate HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) around data privacy. Amazon Web Services should help the team around any data hurdles with HIPAA, and through Krasner the company has the right experience on-board.
Health focused Alexa features could be a long way off, but it seems that the infamous Dr. Google may soon have a rival.