Smart solutions to empower seniors

Silverline Mobile's system uses sensors that track if a senior has left his home or left an appliance on. Smartphone apps then alert caregivers.
Silverline Mobile's system uses sensors that track if a senior has left his home or left an appliance on. Smartphone apps then alert caregivers.PHOTO: SILVERLINE MOBILE

When Silverline Mobile was creating a product to keep seniors connected through a series of sensors and smartphone apps, founder Daryl Arnold tapped the services of two special "consultants" - his wife's grandparents, aged 90 and 94.

"I've had conversations with them about everything from the apps' features to colours and fonts," said Mr Arnold, 43, who will launch the mobile and smartphone system with telecommunications provider StarHub this year.

Over the past two years, the company has conducted a series of pilot trials involving some 75 Singapore households and 25 households in the United States and Britain.

It made significant changes to the system along the way, ditching features that seniors found fiddly and adding others that worked better.

The system has eight sensors that track, for instance, if a person has left his home or a room, or left an appliance on. It comes with two specially designed apps: one for the user and a companion app for family members and caregivers.

Data captured by the system is analysed, and the user, caregivers or emergency services are alerted to any anomalies. The app also provides a senior-friendly interface for other smartphone tasks such as calls, messaging and photo sharing.

"It has taken a lot of trial and error to get to this point," said Mr Arnold, who began testing his idea with seniors through Willing Hearts and Lions Befrienders in 2012.

Seniors were given free smartphones preloaded with his company's mobile apps, making it easy for them to take photos, make calls and get emergency assistance.

Silverline Mobile made headlines in 2013 when it crowdsourced for funding to arm another 150 needy seniors with iPhones and the relevant apps. It raised US$50,000 (S$70,400) in just six weeks, and drew hundreds of ideas about how the technology could be adapted further.

"This is an exercise in continued development - the launch is just the beginning," said Mr Arnold, a Singapore permanent resident who also heads social enterprise and technology firm Newton Circus.

Silverline Mobile was cited by Orcadesign Consultants design director Jeremy Sun as being ahead of the curve in applying "design thinking" to product development. The best firms are able to consider seniors' physical and emotional needs "without stereotyping", he said.

Other examples of good design catering to this demographic include community kitchens that put food in the hands of elderly people who live alone, Mr Sun said.

At the GoodLife! Makan Kitchen in Marine Terrace, for example, elderly residents who live alone gather to cook and eat. The scheme was launched by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in January.

"The organisers have... designed an ecosystem that allows older people to participate and contribute... and make friends so they can look out for one another. It's a smart solution done in a simple way," said DesignSingapore Council executive director Jeffrey Ho.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Smart solutions to empower seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe