Yesterday, a small army of Bromford colleagues made the trip up to Pontefract to visit Mary’s VIP home. Mary is not a real person but a persona, carefully constructed to reflect some of challenges to independent living that are common in later life. Tunstall have created Mary, and she is the nucleus for a flat that goes beyond telecare, telehealth and assisted living - an industry that Tunstall is already very successful in.
Mary’s VIP home is an exploration of products that don’t just complement current telecare technology in managing environmental risks effectively, but give Mary opportunities to be better connected with family and friends and take the strain out of some daily activities. All products (bar one) could be purchased off the shelf, or through Tunstall. The products were installed in a real flat at Halberg House, an Independent living scheme owned and managed by WDH.
The technology tour started as product marketing manager @AdrianScaife kicked us out the flat, followed suit and locked the door behind him. A bluetooth activated lock meant that a care worker could unlock a door, if within close proximity, with a tap on a smartphone app - replacing potentially insecure key safes. The door could also log who’s entered, and retain photos of the last twenty visitors - assuring family that there are no untoward guests abusing Mary’s trust.
Technology had been incorporated into the flat in as unobtrusive way as possible, and while I tried to scoop where the kit was as Adrian gave us an overview, some products still took me by surprise - such as the slim black Amazon Echo that came to life with a soft blue/green glow and started playing Kings of Leon and letting Alex (Director of Asset Management) know the weather in Seattle, where it thought we were currently. They’re not ‘technically’ available in the UK...
PIR movement and temperature sensors, cloud controlled thermostats and an electricity tracking device, that recorded when appliances were last used based on unique draws of current, all demonstrated how care could be distributed across family networks, rather than relying solely on third-party provision (and intrusion).
Messaging systems that work through the TV, Chromecast Quizzes, free VoIP calls between flats and free basic wifi hotspots all showed ways that despite living alone, Mary could keep the constant slow roll of family news trickling in, or just catch up with a friend on the other side of the scheme.
It would have been easy for Tunstall to kit out the flat with just their telecare systems or complementary ones from their portfolio. So it was reassuring to see the model moving closer towards distributed care and, most excitingly, stuff that’s a little more fun, yet still intuitive to use. Apart from PARO the seal or components of Pepper the robot, this seems to be a neglected area of ‘retirement living’ technology - and in my opinion I’d rather be happy and entertained and occasionally go without help, rather than be rescued instantly only to be left in a flat without any gizmos. But that’s just me.
Still - one of the best prospects out there seems to be the virtual, voice activated assistant and as technology in this area is making leaps and bounds, I’m eager to see what place it has in retirement living of the near future.