Smart speaker allows the elderly to continue living at home independently for longer
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‘The Virtual Carer will tell you when you need to take your medication’
Allow the elderly to continue living at home independently for longer with the help of a smart speaker. That’s the aim of the Virtual Carer. Inventors Maheep Gupta and Freek Teunen received the full subsidy amount requested from Citylab010 at the end of last year. They’ll now provide a little more information about their solution.
Maheep Gupta lives in Schiedam, but is originally from India, where his father still lives to this day. He has a heart condition and so Maheep naturally spends a fair amount of time worrying about his dad’s health. ‘It would be incredibly helpful if I could, for example, be sent a green check mark via an app every morning, just to let me know my dad has managed to successfully get up and that he is in good health,’ according to Maheep. ‘That would instantly put my mind at rest and I’d be able to do a little less stalking.’
Maheep and his business partner Freek Teunen – who have set up their OCD Lab company together and are located in the Groot Handelsgebouw – came up with the Virtual Carer concept partly from this background. This is a physical smart speaker à la Google Home with three clear objectives. One: to allow the elderly to continue living at home independently for longer. Two: to relieve pressure on the healthcare system. And three: to make sure Maheep – and obviously many other vulnerable elderly people’s nearest and dearest – will see that reassuring ‘green check mark’ every day.
Proactive rather than reactive
‘Today’s technology literally offers endless possibilities,’ Maheep tells us. ‘But virtually everything is reactive. You ask Google Home or Siri something and the device offers you a reply. Plus they’re mainly focussed on entertainment or convenience. Playing music, switching off the lights, that type of thing. So it goes without saying we’re completely aware a smart speaker is nothing new, but the way in which we’re going to be using the device is. We want the speaker to be proactive. That it will actually take the initiative to tell someone it’s time for their medication. Or that it will send out an alert when someone hasn’t woken up yet by eight o’clock, when that would normally always be the case.’
Easier and healthier living
‘It therefore doesn’t have any entertainment value, but it’s aimed at making the lives of elderly people both easier and healthier. Making sure they can continue living at home independently for longer,’ Freek Teunen adds. ‘It will definitely also allow healthcare workers to operate more efficiently. Nurses will often spend a significant amount of time on routine matters and would much rather spend their time on other things. The elderly will be able to do a great deal more independently thanks to the Virtual Carer and will subsequently require less help too. But we certainly won’t be replacing any required human interaction. We will specifically be adding something. Something which will make the lives of the elderly, their loved ones and the nursing staff just that little bit easier.’
This addition is therefore a smart speaker, which must be easy to use. The only thing the elderly will need to do is simply plug it in! However, we will naturally need to develop the required hardware and software before we can make this happen. ‘We’re currently working on the sensors, which will be installed in the homes and which need to be able to register both movement and light. These sensors will be linked to the speaker. I have installed a number of these in my own home to test whether it’s all working,’ Maheep says. ‘Another team is working on the software, in order to optimise the process and to establish a connection with diaries and apps. We’re also heavily involved with data science. We need to collect huge amounts of data before we can apply artificial intelligence, which will allow us to detect patterns and give meaningful advice.’
An equally important process is running parallel to the development of the Virtual Carer: security and privacy. Maheep: ‘Our solution has to be 100% safe, as we’re registering data in people’s homes. It can’t invade people’s privacy in any way whatsoever. It simply has to help and nothing more. That’s why we would like to start off with a soft launch this summer, which will allow us to thoroughly test everything and make any necessary improvements. We’ll start tackling things on a larger scale once we have completed that process.’
There’s already genuine interest in the Virtual Carer. The home care shop Vegro, active nationally and in Rotterdam, is planning a large-scale marketing campaign. ‘They instantly asked when it would be available,’ Freek tells us. He has already managed to build up a network in the medtech sector, partly as a result of the LSH010 breakfasts initiated by the municipality of Rotterdam, as well as his activities in the virtual reality field. ‘We see Vegro as an excellent customer. They know our product’s potential users better than we do. We excel in the development side of things. A subsequent step would be to enter into discussions with health insurers. They will benefit from the elderly being able to live at home independently for longer and subsequently requiring less care.’
Freek and Maheep have registered their initiative for Citylab010 2020 in order to speed things up a little. They received the full requested subsidy amount of € 68,435. ‘It goes without saying we are overjoyed about this,’ Freek says. ‘And we will certainly be needing that amount too, as this is an incredibly ambitious project. We wouldn’t have been able to tackle things at such a scale and this effectively with less money.’ Maheep adds: ‘Apparently the jury recognised the fact that we’ll be resolving an important issue with our product. This has certainly also become apparent from our various different discussions with all sorts of involved parties. We will therefore be dedicating all of our time and efforts to developing the Virtual Carer over the forthcoming months.’
Date: 24 March 2021