Assistive technology company Alcove, who has been helping older and disabled adults in housing schemes across the UK remain safe for the last three years using its IoT-based digital care ecosystem, has reported that it is the only company of its kind in the UK to have built a care ‘skill’ on Amazon’s Alexa devices and integrated the devices fully into its platform.
Who is Alexa?
For those who have been living under a rock for the last two years, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa has become a mainstay in consumer homes across the globe and is now being recognised as a game changer in providing assistance to vulnerable individuals in need of specialist accommodation.
Identifying the potential of Alexa to transform its system and provide a more accessible interface for older and disabled adults, Alcove first deployed Alexa into an London and Quadrant extra care scheme (see Housing Technology, March 2018) just two months after the official UK release of Amazon Echo in order to see what all the fuss was about and work out what the ‘use case’ could be for older adults in housing.
“Alexa, bark like a dog”
In 2017, Alcove supplied Wigan Council with its first 100 Alexa devices, 30 of which were deployed in sheltered housing. The ‘Ask Alexa’ project sought to determine how Alexa could enhance the lives of vulnerable individuals, as well as gathering suggestions from residents and their loved ones for any specially-designed skills that could support their needs and aspirations.
From the participants, which included both the tech-savvy and the technologically disenfranchised, Alcove found that 95 per cent of users used Alexa daily for a variety of uses, from checking the weather forecast and playing music to setting reminders and adding items to a shopping list. Some more adventurous participants found particularly creative uses for Alexa, with one discovering that she could enable the device to play dog barking and growling sounds to deter burglars and bogus callers.
Alexa also proved effective in combatting social isolation; one participant mentioned that as well as being “very good with day-to-day living skills”, Alexa was “also really good company”.
Alexa skill for carers
As a result of the trial, a number of ideas were put forward by participants for a specially-designed skill. One suggestion, in particular, sought to combat a common issue that residents and their loved ones face, that of keeping track of the many care professionals coming and going from the home on a daily basis.
In the following months, Alcove built “Alexa Check-In”, a skill that allows carers, maintenance staff, friends and family members to check-in to residents’ properties without the need for apps, swipe cards or landlines. Visitors simply ask Alexa to “open check-in” when entering the property before relaying their unique pin code when prompted.
Each check-in is recorded in the Alcove system, where all attendance data is stored and can be monitored in the Alcove app by family members and care staff, or exported to Excel for payroll purposes. Custom alerts can then be created to notify key individuals when staff fail to attend at the scheduled time.
This not only gives family members peace of mind that their loved ones are receiving the care they require but also provides housing providers with valuable real-time data that allows them to identify labour efficiencies and potential safeguarding issues.
Alexa as part of BAU
An Amazon Echo equipped with the check-in skill and all the standard functionality of Alexa is now included as part of every Alcove installation in new social housing builds.
With hundreds of Echo Dots deployed nationally, Alcove is also offering Show and Spot, the latest generation of the Amazon Echo, to its clients to add further lifestyle capabilities as well as the essential care skills to digitally empower residents. Thanks to the inbuilt screen, they can access cooking demonstrations, watch home videos, get help with crossword spellings and more, all done by asking Alexa.
Alcove also gives clients the option to integrate other Alexa-compatible devices into their installations, including smart blinds, lights, kettles and doorbells, to allow older and disabled adults to harness the power of voice-controlled interfaces for independent living.
Hellen Bowey, CEO, Alcove, said, “We created Alcove because the so-called ‘technology’ sector to support older and disabled adults was so very poorly served by mostly hardwired, stigmatising equipment, with little data collection or intelligence.
“Within housing, we are making great strides, particularly with our new build scheme offer to fully replace the traditional warden call and door entry systems and provide the infrastructure services, as well as ensuring the in-residence technology includes an Alcove-integrated Alexa as standard.
“To put it another way, our loved ones and those in care and support services deserve an awful lot better than a big red button and a pull cord.”