Dublin Pilots Voice Assistant and Smart Device Network for Older People Living Alone
Dublin City University (DCU) has started piloting a network of voice AI and smart technology to improve the lives of older people living alone. The NEX system carries on the burgeoning trend of leveraging voice assistants to raise people’s quality of life as they age. In this case, the over-60 participants have installed an Alexa-enabled smart display tied to a smartwatch and various smart home sensors to track their activity and spot potential health issues earlier than they might have been discovered.
DCU’s Centre for e-Integrated Care (CeIC) and the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics worked with Irish tech firms Davra and Danalto to set up the NEX system. NEX’s researchers have distributed smart displays, wearables, and ambient AI sensors to gather information for analysis over a 10-week period. The idea is to chart behavior patterns and look for where changes could benefit the user or where a shift might indicate illness or other problems. For instance, someone who forgets to take their medication might be prompted to do so at the appropriate time. On the other side of the coin, sensors reporting someone staying home when they usually go for a walk at the same time each day may indicate the user isn’t feeling well or needs help.
“Imagine a future in which we live longer at home with assistance from technology that can enhance communication, enable self-monitoring and securely share information with our network of caregivers in order to preserve our independence and improve our quality of life. That is the future we are imagining with the NEX system,” principal investigator Dr. Catriona Murphy explained. “This is the final phase of the project where we aim to trial the NEX system in the homes of older adults. This is a great opportunity for anyone over 60 years of age and living within the Dublin region to test this system in their home and see how it could benefit them.”
Interest has skyrocketed in applying voice AI to help care for aging people, both alone and in senior living communities. Amazon’s Alexa Care Hub feature is designed to assist in caring for independent older relatives by letting people from one home consensually use their relative’s Alexa-enabled smart device and track their activity, as well as serving as an emergency contact for Alexa to call. The recent Alexa Together tool built on that idea with an optional Remote Assist feature to set and share reminders and shopping lists. NEX shares a lot of similarities with K4Connect, which distributed more than 8,000 Echo Dot smart speakers donated by Amazon to retirement communities on the west coast in 2020. Last year, K4Connect integrated its software for assisted living communities with the Amazon Echo Show smart display and began a partnership with North Carolina Assisted Living Association (NCALA), placing more than 1,400 Amazon Echo Show 8 smart displays in around 1,200 North Carolina assisted living communities.