A voice-activated model for engagement … and a world of possibilities.

The Amazon Alexa, a voice-activated personal assistant, has commanded the attention and excitement of consumers since its release in November 2014—and has opened up a new and exciting world. In collaboration with residents and staff at Carlsbad By The Sea, a Front Porch retirement community, the Center for Innovation and Wellbeing launched a pilot to explore the potential use case scenarios of this emerging innovation.

The Amazon Alexa family of the Echo, Dot, and now the Show, has quickly gained widespread appeal in their engagement application among seniors, from the tech adverse to avid early adopters. Some of the cloud-based technology’s benefits such as helping with reminders, alarms, entertainment, lighting automation, and answering queries has inspired widespread discussions in its potential for older adults. Additionally, the list of caregiving applications through 3rd party Alexa Skills such as Ask Marvee and Ask My Buddy continue to grow to meet the demands of family members and loved ones.

“To look at it from a human standpoint, what do we use to get messages across, to communicate?—it’s your voice,” says Gary Groot, a 95 year-old resident. “Yes, we have learned to write, how to type, how to use a computer, but voice is the first and will be there forever, and that’s what the Alexa offers us—it’s a natural thing.”

“I was skeptical of joining the project because of my vision, but my family encouraged me and I’m glad I did,” reflected Lois Seed, an 89 year old pilot participant with macular degeneration. Seed re-discovered one of her favorite radio stations she hasn’t been able to listen to in years. “It helps me enjoy my lifestyle, life is more enjoyable with Alexa.”

The Center for Innovation and Wellbeing tested these hypotheses by deploying 15 Amazon Echo devices and compatible smart home technologies (smart electric plugs and thermostats) into residents’ homes at Carlsbad By The Sea. Pilot volunteers included people with limited mobilities, vision impairments, and other physical challenges. This pilot demonstration group worked closely with FPCIW and the resident’s technology committee (which distributed an additional 20 Echo Dots) to provide feedback in the form of surveys, focus groups meetings, and phone interviews over the course of over six months—and the level of interest in the technology has continued to expand. Resident feedback results have indicated high satisfaction with the technology, and even higher interest in the ever-improving features and potential to develop into an effective and convenient communication tool to stay connected with community, friends, family and the digital world.

With training and support provided by FPCIW and further boosted by the enthusiasm of a growing number of residents and staff, nearly half of the entire community population currently uses an Alexa device, and are daily finding new ways to incorporate its use according to each individual’s unique needs and lifestyles. FPCIW is in the process of developing an adoption model that will support scaling to additional communities and groups.

Based on the success of the pilot, Front Porch will scale and diffuse these solutions through the Voice-activated Independence for Smart Home Engagement (VISHN) initiative, a project that introduces voice and automation technologies to senior living and affordable housing communities through the generous support of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation.

We are currently in 500+ Front Porch resident homes across 9 of our legacy communities across California.

Learn more about our Alexa project:

View our latest and updated Alexa Guide.

Read the CIW’s Final Report about the Amazon Alexa.

Read the full dissertation and check out the presentation by a student from the University of Cambridge (Department of Psychology).

Read the MIT Technology Review: The Octogenarians who Love Amazon’s Alexa.

Download a PDF of this story.