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How can smart speakers be used to their full potential in care homes? Webinar Reflections

Kirsty Marrs |29, April, 2022

By Katie Edwards

Back in August 2020, we held an online event to discuss the use of smart speakers and voice technology in care homes. The webinar explored several key areas:

  • Overview of previous EPIC research implementing smart speakers in Cornish care homes
  • Workshop style discussion
  • The role of EPIC in supporting further innovation of voice tech in the care sector

Previous Research: Smart speakers in Cornish Care Homes

During 2019 members of the EPIC team set out to distribute 150 smart speakers to the region with help from a Technology Enabled Care grant from Cornwall Council. We went door to door offering devices to homes who snapped them up as we made our way around the county. Homes were given a guide on how to set the device up, and asked to report back on how they were getting on.

143 homes came back to us with feedback, most of whom were using and enjoying the devices. Uses included music, asking questions, playing games and quizzes. Some homes did struggle with issues such as internet connectivity but these were overcome with support from the project. Some residents also found the speaker to be a little strange on its arrival, however this did not impact enjoyment and overtime residents became accustomed to asking the ‘strange’ box questions.

Some of our homes took things further and connected devices to other smart products to create sensory and learning experiences for their residents. This makes us ask the question, what’s next for voice tech in residential care?

Workshop Discussion

Despite some initial technical difficulties our group discussion got off to a great start where we heard questions on safety and privacy which were discussed at length as well as thinking about how voice tech could help with infection control.

During this session we also asked the audience a series of poll questions to help understand their views.

The majority of attendees thought that the benefit of smart speakers in residential care homes was with the residents themselves (12/17), rather than staff (0/17), ability to connect to family (3/17) or their ability to improve the quality of care (2/17).

Most of the attendees had a smart speaker either at home or at work. Participants also voted that data protection was their biggest concern closely followed by limitations with the devices such as speak recognition.

Some great ideas for how we can expand the use of smart speakers in care were discussed and we look forward to advancing this work in the future within a working group.

What support could EPIC offer to Cornish SMEs interested in developing voice technology and smart speaker skills for care?

EPIC can support eligible start-ups, Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises to explore the innovation of voice technology for the care sector.

In the first phase (2017-2020) the EPIC project supported several projects looking to enhance the use of technology within the care sector.

We can support a range of businesses based in the regions, perhaps you are an established business with an interest in pivoting your product to the health and social care market?

Perhaps you already have an eHealth product you would like to develop further or trial? Or perhaps you are an individual or student interested in establishing a new start up business?

The support is entirely bespoke for each business and could include access to funding through our challenge fund, the opportunity to be linked to a University of Plymouth student to support innovations through partly funded internships, academic support from the EPIC team to evaluate ideas or facilitate co design processes and piloting.

If you have ideas in the area of voice technology for care, why not get in touch with EPIC to discuss this further? Feel free to email the team epic@plymouth.ac.uk or for further information on our business support, contact our Business Engagement Manager matt.silver@plymouth.ac.uk