by Bill Monahan, Homebuttons
Since its inception in 1967 the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), now held in Las Vegas in January, has introduced the latest electronic innovations to an awestruck public. Through the years these products have evolved from the first portable telephone weighing 19 pounds, through the steady miniaturization of computing power, universal digitalization, the world wide web, Wi-Fi, touchscreens, smart phones and tablets to create an entirely different electronic landscape.
The modern electronics displayed at this year’s CES show are tiny, totally interactive and portable. They can read your brainwaves, identify your face, and drive robots designed to perform specific interactive tasks for you. And, as they have pulled the concept of entertainment into a world unheard of in 1967, they can completely immerse you in virtual sensations.
Here in Southern Georgian Bay, where the Boomers outnumber the Millennials, and where Homebuttons specializes in electronics that enhance life at home, I’ve reviewed the innovations at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, looking for the innovations that are most likely to have an impact on my neighbours and my business.
The toys are fun, but what about devices in the home that can enhance safety, security and aging in place?
It looks to me as if mobile interactive robotics in the home are poised to become the caregiver’s best friend in the near future. Honda introduced at this year’s CES a suite of robots designed to meet personal emotional and safety needs. The 3E Robotics Concept takes its name from Empower, Experience and Empathy. Along with a cart, an indoor scooter and an off-road vehicle, all equipped with artificial intelligence, they offer the “Empathy” robot (the light bulb shape at the left of the picture), with a simplified face that responds with meaningful expressions, with artificial intelligence programmed to respond to human emotions and needs.
But the Best of Innovation Award winner at CES went to ElliQ, a robot specifically designed to improve life for older adults living alone.
ElliQ learns the user’s tastes, preferences and habits to make proactive suggestions for activities, such as suggesting a walk, or your favourite TV program, providing medication and appointment reminders. The AI uses what the company calls “’Natural Communication’” to convey emotion through body language, sounds, lights, images and speech interface.”
Other robots are coming to keep you company and do your bidding. With names like Woohoo, Cutii and Buddy, they provide an array of personal services from playing music and videos and reminding you of appointments to anticipating your interests, setting up appointments, and even helping with the housework.
Manufacturers of robotics are focussed on the nature of the interface, determined to break down that barrier between man and machine, and on developing a level of intuition that corresponds to the individuality of the user. They are being tweaked to become the perfect companion to someone aging at home alone. At the same time they can become the link between the homeowner and his or her smart home systems, communicating to all systems in the house and watching for anomalies that might generate an alarm.
Often when elderly people live alone, the stress on their loved ones is greater than it is on themselves. One of the most commonly expressed fears is the worry that mom or dad will fall and no one will know or come to help. Homebuttons provides personal alarm pendants that can detect falls, as well as the more comprehensive Carelink Advantage system which monitors the home environment around the clock to ensure that nothing unusual goes unnoticed. The products displayed at CES this year make it clear that, as more manufacturers turn their focus to aging at home, products to help with that will become slicker and simpler.
A French company called Domalys offers a product they call Aladin Smart Light. It mounts on the wall, communicates with your modem to access the Internet, and responds to imbedded motion detectors to turn on at night when someone walks by. While the light helps avoid a fall, the motion sensors in the device would send out an alarm if they should indicate that one has occurred.
Samsung, maker of the Gear Smart watch, is forming partnerships to enhance the security of a home to include concerns for those aging in place. They are working with ADI to enlarge the standard home security system to include data regarding wellness, and monitoring of activities similar to what the Carelink system can do.
The trend toward “wearable tech” has applications designed to help with aging in place. A company that developed “smart” socks for athletes has adapted them to be able to track individuals and well as sense if a patient is taking medication, doing exercises or is in distress. Headbands that monitor brain waves can help promote healthy sleep, or analyse emotions and stress level helping to enhance meditation, reduce stress.
At the same time, gaming technologies are being adapted for wellness applications. There are devices that include an eye-tracking assessment to screen for concussions and other brain health problems, with the possibility of early detection indicators for autism and Parkinson’s disease. Applications of virtual and augmented reality developed for gaming is being adapted to areas such as rehabilitation and pain management, potentially offering hope for treating opioid addiction.
As we age, and particularly if we are living alone, the kitchen can become a dangerous place. The new direction is toward smart appliances that communicate with each other and the Internet to make using the kitchen safer and more convenient.
Electronics manufacturer LG has developed a suite of appliances it calls the “smart kitchen”. The fridge has a big 29” touchscreen on its door. Tap on it once to access recipes based on what’s on hand and send the relevant information to the range to make cooking more straightforward. Tap it twice and it becomes a window without opening the door. In addition to keeping track of the inventory it can also alert you when something passes its expiry date. With Wi-Fi, all of the appliances can be controlled from your smart phone.
Add to that Kohler’s Sensate Kitchen Faucet, which provides water to measure (ideal for recipes) and tracks water consumption, and you have a kitchen that eliminates many of the problems associated with taking care of yourself as you age.
These items are just a small part of the galaxy of intelligent electronic devices that are transforming our modern world. While generations of young people will grow up taking them for granted, barely noticing how they have impacted their lives, seniors won’t be left behind. The aging boomer generation is still a potent consumer force and innovative manufacturers are increasingly finding ways to include them in the evolution of electronics.