The Austin, Texas-based startup Unaliwear just released the innovative Kanega watch. The Kanega is a high-tech and high-design voice activated smartwatch. The device enables you, or your loved one stay safe, active, and independent while aging in place. The Kanega's voice-activated communication system offers the user access to its applications and the power to contact a call center support service immediately. The watch's attractive design and easy-to-use features are the results of an unlikely development process.
Unaliwear's founder and serial-entrepreneur, Jean Anne Booth, developed the Kanega with the help of her 80-year-old mother, Joan. Joan provided Booth with the inspiration for and valuable feedback on the development of the watch. Joan was frustrated with the typical oversized button-like and beige color personal medical monitors on the market.
Her experience is reflective of the options that come standard on most assistive aging in place devices. There is a widening disconnect between what older adults want and what creators think they want. Aesthetically displeasing assistive products with limited usability will receive very little or declining interest. These product's features often overlook the majority of older adults and focus on those older adults in most need of assistance. These products will ignore the independent older adult who may just need a simple medication reminder versus a large, hospital-issued style monitor.
Incorporating the actual needs of all older adults will become essential and profitable for the next generation of designers. A 2012 Nielsen survey found in 2012 the 65 and older demographic controls 70% of the United State's disposable income. The US Census Bureau estimates that by 2050 this percentage of the population will double. These figures will fuel the next generation of assistive product innovation. Thankfully the service providers and product creators have started to follow Unaliwear's example and incorporate the end user's specific wants and needs.
Design firms have started new initiatives to help overcome this disconnect. AARP has partnered with the global design firm, Frog Design to develop the "Aging By Design" program. Their collaborative program hopes to create innovative, user-focused products and services for the 50-plus market. The Frog Design team has created an Aging By Design Innovation Action Map to help guide other creators to a fuller and more empathetic understanding of older adults and their needs.
One of the leading influencers in this collaborative design movement is Aging 2.0's "Chief Elder Officer" Dr. June Fisher. Aging 2.0 is a global network of aging innovators helping to solve the issues facing older adults. Dr. Fisher shared her first-hand experience on the current state of assistive technology at the d.Health Summit last year, "I was quite angry at these 20-year olds who would tell me their technology will change our lives when they have no understanding of our experience." Dr. Fisher went on to say that she found that investors overlooked many products that spark interest in her and other older adults. That these investors don't understand "the needs of the aging market or they lack imagination."
This disconnect between developers, investors, and the end users, unfortunately, falls along gender lines as well. Last year it was reported that female-led organizations received only 2.7% of all venture capital. This disparity should not be much of a surprise when in the tech industry women hold just 11 percent of positions. As Joseph Coughlin, the director of MIT's Agelab, described in the Longevity Economy, this gender and age disparity will hamper the development of assistive technology. More than likely the future products for older adults will originate from the tech sector. Dr. Coughlin said "companies need to see eye-to-eye with their customers in a way that they currently don’t. Given that the older consumer is more often than not an older female consumer, that kind of insight may be hard to come by for companies run mainly by men under age 65." These new initiatives and efforts will without a doubt create new and exciting assistive technology.
Unaliwear's Kanega has several design features that set it apart from the typical smartwatch. The Kanega's innovative voice recognition technology helps the user establish a much more personalized relationship with their device. Rather than using a pre-programmed name like Siri or Alexa, the Kanega can be activated with a custom, assigned name. For example, Joan used the name "Fred Astaire." After assigning your Kanega a name, one can quickly request assistance without having to press any buttons. This uncomplicated design feature helps keep emergency assistance and loved ones a few syllables away. Fully-functional without a smartphone, the Kanega can contact a pre-selected emergency contact or local emergency services depending upon your watch's settings. This contact feature can also be activated automatically when its sensors detect you may be in trouble. Its sensors can detect a fall and periods of immobility throughout the day. Following its detection, the watch will attempt to contact the wearer and check on their status. Without any response, the system will automatically reach emergency services with the wearer's location.
The Kanega can also provide the user assistance all by itself too. One can ask "Fred Astaire" for help navigating back home in the car or on foot. The watch's system learns your typical routine and where you have traveled offering the correct directions back home safely. The Kanega can read out these instructions to the driver even while they are behind the wheel. This navigation feature uses the same location-based technology that will transmit your location to emergency services in the event of an accident.
The Kanega can also help manage complicated medication schedules. It can handle reminders, dosages, and instructions for proper medication adherence. All transmitted directly from the pharmacy to your Kanega, avoiding a complicated input process. The pharmaceutical information is stored safely in Verizon's HIPAA compliant cloud. The HIPPA compliant cloud will also store data that the watch has collected. This data helps its system to learn more about the wearer's daily routine and locations. For example, the Kanega can update its lifestyle information determining how often and when the wearer is sleeping. All of this lifestyle information can be mined via machine learning to become a better, more attentive assistant.
The Kanega's easy-to-use, voice-activated controls offer the wearer increased control over their activities of daily living. It acts much more as an aid to their routine rather than as an overseer. Unaliwear's team found that traditional monitors which will alert loved ones when they are non-compliant can often cause concern. The Kanega offers the user on demand assistance on their terms. Its function and design let the user stay connected without feeling like they are in a facility, required to wear a beige fall monitor with large buttons. The conventional watch design style of the Kanega helps it blend in with any other retail watch. The user can have all of the power of an assistive device without any of the stigmas. Its notification system also allows for discreet wear. The Kanega will always request the user's permission to speak. With a quiet buzz on the user's wrist, its notification can be ignored in a quiet setting. For a concerned loved one, these features will put them at ease. They can be much more confident that their loved one is using the assistive device when it overcomes so many objections.
At this time, the Kanega is only available for pre-order. But, following a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, raising $110,000, Unaliwear received an additional $3.5 million in venture capital funding early last year. This additional financing and excitement about the Kanega will no doubt help have the completed watches available in retail very soon.
The Kanega's function focuses on what the end user wants out of an assistive device. Overcoming the challenges of living independently without becoming a burden or too reliant on loved ones. Overcoming these challenges without appearing like they are dependent on an apparent assistive device. The Kanega is much more than a smartwatch for Seniors; it is a tool to help older adults retain their independence and confidence. The most high-tech and supportive device will not and can not support the wearer if it makes them feel self-conscious. The traditional monitor would quickly be removed, placed in a drawer and forgotten about it. Unaliwear is at the vanguard of the collaborative product development movement.