Bri­tish Gas plans Alexa for the el­derly

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Olivia Rudgard in Las Vegas

CEN­TRICA HIVE, the Bri­tish Gas smart-home com­pany, is plan­ning an Alex-style ro­bot as­sis­tant to help tackle lone­li­ness among the el­derly.

Its new sys­tem al­lows older peo­ple to be re­motely mon­i­tored by their fam­i­lies us­ing sen­sors on home items like cup­boards, ket­tles and their front door.

Claire Miles, its manag­ing di­rec­tor, said the com­pany now wanted to in­cor­po­rate a vir­tual as­sis­tant that could talk to a user and stop them from be­com­ing lonely.

“There’s lots of re­search and lots of po­ten­tial solutions out there already for how lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion can be tack­led through ro­bot­ics,” she told The Sun­day Tele­graph at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Vegas.

“One of our big vol­un­teer­ing pro­grammes at work is that you can take time off to call an older per­son and be that weekly per­son that they have a chat with. You can en­vis­age that that could be done through ro­bot­ics.”

She sug­gested that the sys­tem could in­cor­po­rate an “Alexa-type solution”, sim­i­lar to Amazon’s smart speaker, which can re­spond to voice com­mands, rather than a phys­i­cal hu­manoid ro­bot.

Re­spond­ing to the sug­ges­tion that the sen­sor sys­tem could lead fam­i­lies to visit their el­derly rel­a­tives less of­ten, she said: “We would never want to ex­ac­er­bate that. In fact, tack­ling that issue is one of the things on our road map for this propo­si­tion.”

Hive Link, the smart home sys­tem, al­lows fam­ily mem­bers and neigh­bours to see when an el­derly per­son last used kitchen ap­pli­ances and check on se­cu­rity, such as whether they have closed the front door.

It learns a user’s rou­tine and alerts

‘There’s lots of po­ten­tial solutions out there for how lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion can be tack­led’

their friends and rel­a­tives via a smart­phone app if they de­vi­ate from it, for ex­am­ple by not mak­ing a cup of tea at the time they usu­ally do.

Smart home tech for older peo­ple has grown in pop­u­lar­ity as fam­i­lies and cash-strapped lo­cal au­thor­i­ties look for op­tions that do not in­volve ex­pen­sive care homes or live-in car­ers.

Ex­perts have raised con­cerns about the pri­vacy im­pli­ca­tions of some smarthome tech­nol­ogy, par­tic­u­larly gad­gets that in­volve cam­eras, while older peo­ple’s char­i­ties in­clud­ing Age UK have also warned that tech­nol­ogy should not re­place hu­man car­ers.

Gad­gets on show at the Las Vegas show in­cluded Lovot, a cud­dly Ja­panese ro­bot de­signed to com­fort lonely el­derly peo­ple, and El­liQ, a ro­bot “side­kick” with a screen that can sug­gest ac­tiv­i­ties and of­fer health reminders such as to drink wa­ter.

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