British Gas plans Alexa for the elderly
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.