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Wearables & Robots

I don't know whether anyone saw recently the story from Norway of a 67-year-old man who was home alone when he fainted and suffered a hard fall on to his bathroom floor which left him unconscious and with three facial fractures?

The chances are that he would have been there for some time had he not been wearing an Apple Watch Series 4 which has the ability to detect falls and send out an alert if it senses that the wearer has been unresponsive for more than a minute.

The gentleman in question was still unconscious when police arrived. His daughter commented that "it was a serious fall. Perhaps it saved his life."

Whether that is true or not it started me thinking about wearables and mobile phone technology. At the last ACRM meeting in Dallas, Texas I attended a presentation by David Reinkensmeyer and Catherine Lang entitled: "Development and Testing of Wearable Technology to Monitor/Model for Recovery of Function After Neurologic Injury". One of the interesting facts that was referenced was in relation to mobile phones and the 17 different sensors which can be built in to them. I have to admit that personally, prior to that presentation, I was not aware that my phone is fitted with so many sensors which have the ability to accurately track movements. The degree of accuracy is frightening… the difficulty for anyone trying to build a product on the back of the data, however, comes in terms of interpreting the information and creating algorithms which exclude the false readings (of which there are many)…

On the basis, however, that Apple aren't sponsoring me [yet?!] it is only right and proper that we look at some alternative systems which might be out there to help with fall prevention and monitoring of persons at home and in their environment.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list (and is certainly not an endorsement of any of the products below) but it is intended to give an idea of the types of technology which are available and the way in which the market seems to be moving.

The traditional type of system that everyone has heard of is the pendant alarm which an individual wears and which can trigger a call to a call centre in the event of difficulties but other systems are available privately and include the Buddi monitoring system which is slightly different to the traditional pendant as it incorporates a wrist worn emergency button with full sensing. It can be set up in different ways either to contact one or more family members or a call centre.

A different sort of monitoring system is Canary Care which is a home sensing product based on a number of sensors around the home together with a hub allowing a person to be remotely monitored at home.

Some people may not feel too comfortable with the level of monitoring as the sensors can tell when a user has been into particular rooms and transmits this information to the person monitoring them. Having said that it doesn't involve cameras or microphones so cannot tell exactly what the person is doing: instead the idea is to try to deduce whether or not there is a normal level of activity. By way of example: if a person has not been into the kitchen for an entire day that may be a reason for concern. The system can also be set up to show if a person has returned home from a planned trip out.

The Pebbell 2 is a GPS device which can be useful in some situations if the user is seeking help but is unsure where they are and perhaps struggles with the more complex user interface of a standard mobile phone. Mobile phones generally have GPS tracking which is used for numerous tracking and location apps but the Pebbell 2 is intended as an easier way for a person to send messages to a family member. It has a single button which will dial three preset numbers and simultaneously send a text to each contact with a link to the location of the user.

Along similar lines Wacot (who also have a home monitoring product) have recently launched a new wristwatch with GPS functions in addition to the ability to connect and speak to a call centre.

This isn't simply technology for the sake of technology. It seems to me that these devices and their like have genuine practical implications which if used in the right scenario could well assist in promoting independence and obviating the need for [potentially] suffocating care regimes.

One suspects that the rate of progress will be rapid.

I recently watched a crowdfunding webinar for Genie Connect which aims to launch commercially in late 2019. The concept is that it aims to provide an interactive companion. Unlike the Alexa-type device it aims to be proactive rather than simply responding to voice instructions:

  • Reminders
  • Video Calling
  • 24 / 7 care centre (note not "call")
  • Memory stimulation
  • AI engine

The roadmap for Genie Connect will include smart home and wearable sensor integration and the idea is to shortly roll out a pilot of 150 people in the South West. The device works with natural language processing [NLP] and early indications suggest a monthly subscription fee of @ £49.

But just what does that design remind you of J

Perhaps not as 'cute' but along similar lines is the Elli.Q which is being launched by an Israeli company in the US (although as I understand it without any care centre integration) and with no [current] plans to enter the UK market.

The pace of change is not necessarily being driven by the insurance industry but rather by local authorities and the NHS who (against the backdrop of care worker availability) are seeking ways in which an increasingly aged population can be supported at home, facilitated to retain their independence and monitored for injury risks.

This is an international issue. The Japanese government has been funding development for elder care robots to help fill the projected shortfall of 380,000 specialised workers by 2025. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [METI] see it as an opportunity. More than a hundred foreign groups have visited Japan in the past year from countries including China, South Korea and the Netherlands. The global market for nursing care and disabled aid robots (currently made up of mostly Japanese manufacturers) is still tiny: just $19.2 million in 2016 according to the International Federation of Robotics. But METI estimates the domestic industry alone will grow to ¥400 billion ($3.8 billion) by 2035 when a third of Japan's population be 65 or older. If the number of foreign observers is anything to go by it is clear that it is not only Japan that sees robotics as part of a package to address care needs.

For us in the insurance industry our target market is different but many of our concerns (and the needs which have to be addressed) are exactly the same. It seems to me that regardless of who is driving the pace of change it is something which we need to monitor and be ready to catch the wave.

Contact

For more information please contact Ian Slater, Partner, DD 0161 603 5066 M 07798 700494 Ian.Slater@dwf.law

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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