Tech solutions for seniors developer K4Connect have distributed more than 8,000 Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers to retirement communities in areas with high rates of COVID-19 as a way of reducing the isolation and loneliness felt by many people during the current health crisis. The smart speakers, part of Amazon’s $5 million worth of devices donated in reaction to the pandemic, come built with K4Connect’s K4Community software that is designed to make the device easier for staff and residents to use.
K4Connect is sending the Echo Dots to more than 40 retirement communities on the west coast of the U.S. Amazon could just send unopened smart speakers, but the K4Community software adds additional features specialized for those environments. For instance, the retirement community’s staff can program Alexa to answer resident questions about menus, provide a daily announcement roundup, and set up socially distanced events that don’t need to be in person like sing-alongs. Residents can also call each other more easily through the K4Community platform’s Call My Neighbor system. The company’s creations are already used in more than 800 communities around the U.S.
“The opportunity to work with Amazon to serve older adults through this donation effort was obvious for us. COVID-19 has quickly magnified areas where voice technology can help, and fast – people need relief now,” K4Connect CEO Scott Moody said in a statement. “Our enterprise solution allows us to deploy, manage, and support these devices at scale and fully remote, meaning residents get the relief they need quickly and community staff teams are not burdened by installing or managing the technology.”
The need to self-isolate, especially for older people, has spurred smart device makers to experiment with ways of helping seniors stay connected with the world. Google recently donated 1,000 Nest Hub Max smart displays to retirement communities in Washington State as part of a pilot program to test a simplified interface for seniors. The adjusted smart displays sent to Merrill Gardens come with immediate access to a contact list for video calls with Google Duo, along with digital notecards explaining how to use the Google Nest Max. Similarly, Facebook is giving away Portal smart displays in a program with the Department of Veteran Affairs. There’s evidence that voice assistants and related technology really can improve the lives of older people who feel alone. Studies by Project Zilver and Voice for Loneliness have consistently demonstrated how, along with keeping people connected by phone and video calls, voice assistants can be comforting companions. Adding in extra content that can be customized for local use like K4Connect does is likely to make the devices even more popular with older people.