An alert watch for older adults that responds to voice commands

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”150″ /]This Editor has been in Watch Overload (see Apple Watch) for months, but this may be an exception. The UnaliWear Kanega watch (in development) is for the sizable market of older adults who would wear a well-designed watch or band for safety assistance, but not one that screams Old Person With Plastic PERS, an objective shared with the latest edition of buddi [TTA 16 Dec 14]. Their prototype looks like a fairly techno steel watch, a little on the chunky side, but it packs in a lot: a 9-axis accelerometer for fall detection, a GPS locator, Bluetooth LE, cellular/Wi-Fi connectivity and a digital analog display with time and date. What’s unique: no buttons, smartphone or other tether. It works via speech recognition and ‘talks with’ the wearer (via mechanical voice, messaging on the display and a feed to a BLE hearing aid if worn.) The wearer gives the watch a name it responds to and can ask the watch for things like directions and naming medications. It can also be programmed for features such as wander out of a geographic area, guidance home, activity tracking (and lack thereof), medication reminders (which use the watch screen and a discreet vibrate setting) and med tracking/updating. Very impressive and revolutionary if the production version looks like and does what is promised. They rebranded this year from the more pedestrian name LifeAssist; unfortunately this Editor missed them at mHealth Summit. Currently listed on Kickstarter with a goal of $100,000 by 25 March and a target production date of early 2016. Hat tip to John Nosta (@JohnNosta), David Albert, MD (@DrDave01, AliveCor) and Gregg Masters (@2HealthGuru) via Twitter. Also listing on CrunchBase.

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  1. David Albert, MD

    Remember the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Do you think seniors will wear something like that? I must say that I am skeptical. How does the fencing work? Is it all BLE and what about range and dead spaces in a house or out back in the garden? The truth is in the details.

    • Hi David,

      The Kanega watch has cellular & Wi-Fi, so as long as there’s cellular, you’re covered. As Donna noted, though, if you’re in a rural area without cellular coverage, the Kanega watch isn’t going to be able to help you.

      The guard against wandering comes from machine learning artificial intelligence. We learn the wearer’s lifestyle over time, and when they go unusual places (for them), we simply ask them if they need directions home. There’s no hard boundary geo-fencing, nor any caregiver setup.

      We do have BLE, but the BLE is for connecting to the latest generation of hearing aids and for serving as a gateway for telehealth devices.

      Seniors tell us that they will wear the Kanega watch because of 3 things: (1) it goes where you go (works beyond the boundaries of your home); (2) it’s discreet (doesn’t look like those stigmatizing help buttons); and (3) it has an easy speech interface. Of course, what people say and what they do are sometimes two different things – but we won’t be able to answer that question here until 2016.

  2. Donna Cusano

    I do have concern that in rural areas, where a lot of older adults live, it may not work well. But it is gratifying to see a product 1) targeted to this underserved/poorly served group that 2) seems to have credible developers and backing. It’s not a Healbe GoBe where the technology is prima facie bogus and the hype was through the stratosphere.

    They may have to pull back on some of the features in production, but even then it will be way ahead if they do what they say they do. My concern is an acceptability one: though the developer is using her mom as a guide, it’s still rather large for a woman with a thin wrist not accustomed to wearing a watch (and does it chafe sensitive, thin skin?), and the price point (see their Kickstarter).

    Dr. A, did you see them at mHealth Summit? Regrettably I did not and I spent a bit of time in that section.