Experts have called voice technology the future of senior living—and now there’s concrete evidence to support their claim.
Glendale, California-based senior housing provider Front Porch recently wrapped a pilot program involving Amazon.com’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) Echo device and various “smart home” technologies at Carlsbad By The Sea, a Front Porch continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Carlsbad, California. Front Porch manages and operates 10 full-service retirement communities throughout the Golden State.
It’s believed that voice technology can both help seniors age in place longer and collect valuable health data—though there are some obstacles that stand in the way of voice technology’s widespread adoption. Front Porch’s pilot is one of the first to quantify just how quickly seniors can embrace the technology, as well as benefit from it.
After the pilot’s completion, 100% of the residents who participated reported that the Echo’s “voice-first” technology component—Alexa—made their lives easier, and another 75% said that they used Alexa to control devices like smart thermostats and lighting systems in their units at least once per day.
Residents’ enthusiasm around Alexa and smart home devices didn’t come as a surprise to Front Porch, which now plans to implement the technology across its portfolio.
In fact, as soon as Amazon introduced its first Echo device in 2014, Front Porch saw an opportunity for senior housing, according to Kari Olson, Front Porch’s chief innovation and technology officer and president of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW).
“We just had this gut feeling that there was something important here,” Olson told Senior Housing News. “Our residents—particularly at Carlsbad By The Sea—had that reaction as well.”
“Voice-first” technologies, according to Front Porch, are consumer-based products that provide a voice input and output interface. Amazon’s Alexa, available through Amazon’s Echo, Echo Dot and other Echo products, is one of several “voice-first” technologies currently available to consumers.
Before officially launching Phase 1 of its pilot in February 2017, Front Porch hosted a focus group with 25 Carlsbad By The Sea residents to explore their needs, ideas and expectations around voice-first technologies like Alexa. Then, for Phase 1, Front Porch paid for and installed Amazon Echo devices in 12 different Carlsbad units.
Phase 1 lasted for six months and involved a total of 18 resident participants. The phase revealed, among other things, that a majority of participants used Alexa to inquire about the weather and temperature (67%) and to set timers and alarms (53%). Additionally, 27% of participants used Alexa for news; 20% used Alexa to search for information; and 40% used Alexa to play music or request the date and time.
Phase 2 of the pilot began in June 2017, and involved the introduction of Honeywell smart thermostats, TP Link Smart Plugs to control lights and various electrical appliances, and Alexa Voice Remotes to control devices from anywhere in the home. A total of 11 participants completed post-pilot surveys after Phase 2.
Overall, the survey responses revealed that 75% of the residents used their smart devices at least once per day, and 100% of residents believed that Alexa made their lives easier overall. Additionally, 93% of participants said their smart devices boosted their overall enjoyment of using the Alexa device, and 82% claimed that using a smart plug/lamp with Alexa was “very easy.”
Scaling up company-wide
On the whole, Carlsbad residents had “spirited” reactions to Alexa and their smart home devices—so much so that Front Porch, which manages and operates 10 full-service retirement communities in California, is currently in the process of scaling voice-first technology like Alexa across all of its communities, Olson said. It’s possible that the provider is not moving as quickly as some residents would like, though, given that residents at communities other than Carlsbad By The Sea are “beating down the door” to receive their own Alexa devices and training.
All the while, a number of residents who have received Echo Dots from Front Porch have “paid it forward” by purchasing new Echo Dots for their neighbors, according to Olson. This pay-it-forward approach has “picked up massive steam,” she noted.
Now that the pilot is over, Front Porch feels confident that voice-first technologies will play an integral role in its communities in future years.
“The whole purpose was to find out how powerful voice-first technology could be in our service model,” Olson said. “We now understand much more deeply how important it is.”
Written by Mary Kate Nelson