HandsFree Health Delays Smart Speaker Launch, Files Patent for Remote Installation of Home Healthcare Voice Assistant
Home healthcare AI developer HandsFree Health has pushed back its plans to sell a smart speaker built with its WellBe voice assistant to June and is patenting a remote installation method in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The WellBe smart speaker was supposed to be available earlier this year, but the pandemic has led to an adjustment in the startup’s plans.
WellBe is designed as a healthcare tool for the home. It uses voice recognition to distinguish among household members. It is built to help people keep an eye on their health, including reminders about medication and doctor appointments, and comes with an alert sent out to emergency contacts in case of a crisis. The AI is also HIPAA-compliant, which means it can answer questions about health, insurance, and medical costs specific to the user. The company began piloting prototypes of the device last year, but 2020 was to be when regular sales began. The initial plan to sell the smart speakers at the beginning of the year fell apart when the manufacturing plant went into standby as a result of the coronavirus. Now, the sales are projected for later this year, and HandsFree filed a patent on Monday for virtual installation and updates instead of needing an in-person setup.
“While Americans are social distancing, we are struggling with how to help keep loved ones healthy and happy when we cannot be physically near them,” HandsFree Health co-founder Mike Cardillo said in a statement. “Our technology helps to minimize disruptions to healthcare while also providing the entertainment of a voice assistant to help relieve anxiety, especially among older or isolated populations.”
Healthcare-centric smart devices like WellBe are becoming their own genre. HandsFree Health is joining a field that includes voice-activated robotic companion Pria, designed by Pillo Health and Stanley Black & Decker, which combines a smart display with a pill dispenser, as well as LifePod, a ‘proactive’ smart speaker built to help aging or socially isolated people that can prompt conversations about health routines. Then there are the more elaborate robots like temi or the cat-faced Mylo. The pandemic has inspired healthcare voice apps on existing platforms too. WellSaid.ai’s My Day for Seniors Alexa skill recently added a COVID-19 screening questionnaire, for instance. Amazon has integrated a similar quiz into Alexa as well, a pattern followed by Apple and Google with Siri and Google Assistant, respectively.
Details updated after conversation with HandsFree Health