My teammates and I chose to find a way that technology can address the needs of aging populations and ease the burden on caregivers.
Currently, Canary is a stand-alone, all-in-one home security system with a high-definition camera. The camera covers 147° of a room, so its lens spans the majority of space in a room. One of its biggest competitive advantages is how easy it is to set up. If this technology can successfully be adopted by caregivers for elderly populations, it could be branded as Canary Care.
From my research, I found the majority of companies focused on serving elderly do not have high-definition cameras or GPS enabled watches in connection to a monitoring system. Additionally, these companies’ software do not off customizable zones of the house to monitor or home alerts.
We consulted an engineer and asked if the current Canary system could be changed to include a two-way microphone. He said the current alarm feature (which is quite loud) could easily be changed in the back-end system to be a two-way microphone.
I devised a research plan on the feasibility of converting a Canary home security system into a monitoring device for elderly patients in the home who are still relatively independent but still need to be checked on by caregivers.
We conducted seven interviews with people who have deep knowledge of caring for patients with early stage dementia. Although we had a small number or interview, we were able to gather a trove of data on challenges elderly and dementia patients face and how technology could assist them. We spoke with nurses, an occupational therapist, and caregivers.
From the research, we found the biggest concerns to be the loss of action-to-consequence reasoning in patients in the early stages of cognitive deficit disorders in the elderly. For example, one of the interviewers we spoke with said it’s not unusual for a patient who has just gotten groceries to put his or her keys in the fridge and leave the milk sitting out on the counter.
Given that these patients can still function with some independence in their daily routines, we hypothesized that caregivers could use the Canary system to communicate with a patient while not face to face. In our brainstorming, we thought it could be somewhat like a walkie talkie system, with the caregiver communicating via native mobile app through a speaker in the Canary system.
We also conducted two contextual inquiries. We purchased a Canary system in order to analyze the current user flow for its setup and found it to be intuitive. We also used the system to see how it looks in the home and what alerts we could set. I also examined a baby monitor system, one of the most popular ones, and found that the camera is adequate but definitely not high definition. The baby monitor also included a speaker with it, so parents can talk to their children while they're in the crib/bed.
Using Post It notes of all the responses we accumulated during our interviews. We found that caregivers felt taxed with having to constantly check in with a patient. We found that the technology works so long as the patient is in the early stages of dementia and the voice he or she hears is a familiar one. Once the disease advances, dementia patients lose the ability to understand abstractions like a voice coming from a speaker.
Several themes of pain points became clear when we synthesized our interviews with Post Its. Generally the biggest issues are with confusion and disorientation, and judgment deficit, and thus a patient is unable to correctly complete tasks. Concerns about patients' movements were expressed in each interview. Caregivers had to give a lot of attention to safety planning, so that meant concerns about possibility of falling, wandering, or forgetting to close a window or lock the door, and leaving a task unattended, such as something cooking on the stove. Patients needed reminders to keep a consistent medication regimen or to eat at regular intervals.
Safety planning key.
Patients suffer from disorientation, confusion.
Safety is the main issue: wandering, falling, or leaving tasks unattended or incomplete are of highest concern.
We wanted to continue with Canary’s very intuitive, clean interface and also add features that address pain points in caring for the elderly.
We came up several Must Have features, which include:
- two-way microphone
- customizable monitoring zones
- household temperature, humidity, and air quality alerts
Design and Prototype Phase
As a team we did a design studio and brainstormed how the new features could look on an interface. Once we finished our sketches, we created a low-fidelity prototype in Sketch.
Next, we conducted a handful of usability tests and gave user several tasks to complete. From the tests we found users were confused by the alert symbol, which looked much more like a caution symbol, and attempts to turn the camera off revealed a lack of keeping system status updates and actually gave mixed signals to users. When they successfully turned off the camera, the Watch Live button remained in the same state as it was when the camera was on, and thus needed to be changed.
We also observed that several users tried to use the camera pan feature to adjust the view of the room, which is what it was meant to do. Most of the participants could accomplish the tasks we ask them to complete.
Other changes include changed the UI to signal an alert and decided on a bell symbol and also included a crop symbol to represent the custom monitoring zone feature.
The Canary Care prototype can be found here.
In the next iteration of this product, I’d conduct far more usability tests, particularly users who are more inexperienced with technology to see if they’d be able to adopt the new Canary system. Easy of setup and day-to-day use will make or break whether Canary can succesfully enter this new market.
Also, if this proved to be viable, I’d like to see if a smart watch could also help patients. In our research we found that the Apple Watch can be completely submerged in water and still work, so that eliminates the concern of patients forgetting to remove the watch before bathing. The sensors of the watch can read a wearer’s movements, keep a calendar on the home screen to alert the patient about the day’s schedule or provide reminders to help combat the confusion of dementia.
The Canary could be packaged in group of two or more to increase revenue and gain competitive advantage. One of the biggest selling point is that the system is easy to set up and the Canary can be placed in different rooms. Tweaking the app UI to include viewing more than one area of the home wouldn’t be difficult either.