Forget millennials, what about tech for older folk?
By Benjamin Cher February 24, 2016
- Silverline wants to help older adults enjoy life, while easing the worries of their children
- Uses non-intrusive technology to monitor the elderly, with them in control
SO many startups are focusing on solutions for the millennials that only a select few have the elderly on their radar – which is a surprise, given that there is a rapidly aging population in many developed countries.
As older adults reach their golden years, they want to remain independent – yet their grown-up children are worried about their parents’ health, and fear they would not be around in a medical emergency.
This is where Singapore-based startup Silverline hopes to step in, by giving older adults the freedom to live their lives as they will, while allaying their adult children’s fears and worries.
“We say ‘be connected, live well and enjoy life’ – it is a key point when we explore the challenges and opportunities that come with a rapidly aging population,” says Silverline chief executive officer Daryl Arnold.
“Rather than getting caught up with biometrics or a particular medical condition, or taking the attitude of ‘you’re old and sick,’ we want to use all these wonderful new technologies – connected devices, data analytics, etc. – to help older adults get the most out of life,” he adds in a recent conversation with Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore.
Silverline provides sensors that detect and monitor everything from movement in the house to power usage and temperature, then upload this data to the cloud for analytics to map out a profile.
This profile allows for a variance in activities that trigger alerts. And while many such connected biomedical devices for the elderly in the past few years are geared towards automatically alerting a designated caregiver, Silverline alerts are first sent to the older adult.
If there is no response, then the alert would be escalated to the adult children or caregiver of said older adult.
This business is personal
Silverline was born out of both the business opportunity and personal experience, according to Arnold (pic above).
“The numbers point to a great opportunity – there is a rapidly aging population around the world, and developed markets have accumulated huge amounts of wealth with the baby boomer generation,” he says.
But people are living longer lives, and governments and the healthcare industry do not have the systems in place to cater to this.
The older generation “are at risk of seeing their savings being whittled away very quickly,” says Arnold.
Silverline offers its service for about S$30 (US$21) a month, which he believes would not be too much of a financial burden.
Arnold’s father, who currently lives alone in the United Kingdom, was the inspiration for Silverline’s outlook.
“My dad is independent and lives alone, and he’s 74, and we both want him to enjoy a vibrant and independent life – but a few years back, he had a heart attack,” he says.
Arnold says he wanted to help as much as possible, but knew that his father valued his independence.
The answer was technology that could give them both peace of mind.
The value of data
The commoditisation of, and advancements in, sensor technology has allowed Silverline to offer its solutions at affordable prices.
These advancements have also allowed for the capture of interesting data points that can help determine a person’s wellbeing, according to Arnold.
“For example, frequency of bathroom activity – if we understand the frequency of people going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and whether they are switching the lights on, etc., then that could be an indicator of somebody’s wellbeing.
“The sensor to capture that costs S$10 (US$7) – we have done some really smart stuff in the way we communicate data to minimise battery and power usage, and achieve reliability,” he declares.
That same sensor technology can flag when people leave their house keys at home, or leave the television or air-conditioner on.
“It is the same S$10 sensors we use to capture that data, and our software in the cloud can do a relative assessment and trigger a response,” says Arnold.
“We are keen on empowering older adults, so we notify them first if they have left the TV on and so they can do something about it, rather than causing unnecessary concern and trouble with family members,” he adds.
It is only if there are repeat alerts and no action by the older adult will the situation be flagged as a cause of concern to family members, according to Arnold.
He describes all the information that Silverline collects as “low-cost lifestyle data.”
“This low-cost lifestyle data, coupled with biometric data, can provide recommendations on how they should be living in terms of exercise, and can make a huge difference.
“It can be instrumental in enabling somebody to continue to enjoy living independently at home without becoming a burden to their family or community – which is what they want,” he adds.
Arnold stresses that the data is only shared with the immediate family or approved caregivers.
“These are small data points where the gains far outweigh the negatives, but of course if the older adults do not want it, they don’t have to take the system – nobody is forcing them,” he adds.
Sensors that do video- or audio- monitoring are a big no-no to Silverline, he declares.
“We don’t have video or audio monitoring in our portfolio. When we were installing our pilot households, of which we have done over 100, the first question we got asked by older adults is, ‘Are you recording us?’
“That’s crossing a line. We avoid that. Audio-based fall detection and video surveillance are only necessary if the older adult concerned is demonstrating signs of deterioration – and if this is the last attempt to enable them to enjoy their independence, you need that kind of safety blanket,” he adds.
The degree of privacy is best left as a discussion between older adults and their grown-up children, and should cover details like when alerts should be triggered and to whom.
Silverline has also been running pilots at over 100 households and care homes in the last 18 months, which has allowed the startup to understand what works and what does not, as well what people are receptive to.
“For example, simple little experiences that are issues with the gateway (pic above) – many of our older adults tend to switch it off at the mains,” says Arnold.
“It’s a black box that doesn’t tell you anything or doesn’t seem to do anything, and because it’s in their nature to want to conserve energy, they tend to switch it off.
“So we learned that the gateway needs to do more than just be a black box – it has to have a screen to provide information that stuff is happening,” he added.
Of course, the system is alerted if the gateway is switched off, and Silverline will contact the user to find out if there is an issue.
Another lesson learned from the pilot is that people found it distracting or worrying when you have a light on a motion sensor go off every time someone passes it.
“All this nuances we’ve gained; we’ve made all the mistakes and we have learned,” says Arnold.
“What we have is not perfect, and it will definitely evolve,” he adds.
Launch plans, telco tie-up
While the beneficiaries of Silverline’s technology are the older adults, the startup has been reaching out to the adult children and insurers, who are more receptive, according to Arnold.
“We could try and market what we are doing to everybody and deal with people saying, ‘I don’t like technology,’ but the position we have taken is to promote this to the adult children, who will hopefully ultimately pay for it, or insurers.
“We have taken the approach to design and deliver a service for those who are receptive – if that means only a third of the older adult market, that’s okay,” he adds.
The startup is now preparing for a commercial launch in Singapore sometime in the third quarter of 2016.
“Learning from the mistakes of some of our counterparts in the United States, we decided it was important for us to launch with partners – it is important for us to be tightly integrated with a telecommunications company,” says Arnold.
“Telecommunications is one of the few businesses that provide products and services that have permission to come into our homes.
“That seems like an obvious partner for us when delivering smart home solutions, so we have a telecoms partner, and the launch might happen sooner than expected,” he adds, declining to name the telco partner.
Its immediate market will remain its home base of Singapore, with Arnold preferring Silverline to concentrate on a single market rather being distracted by entering multiple markets too quickly.
“I’ll be better off excelling in Singapore rather than entering multiple markets – get Singapore right, and the rest will follow,” he says.
“The earliest that we enter other markets would be in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, but realistically, it will be Q1 2017 before we will be commercially available outside of Singapore,” he adds.
Silverline is currently self-funded by Arnold, who invested US$2.5 million of his own cash into the startup, but is hoping to wrap up Series A funding by Q3 2016.
“This Series A will be used to further operationalise our business and our engineering capabilities, as well as fund our entry into three new markets,” says Arnold.
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