A new home sensor is being launched in Australia with an interesting sales pitch: that it will help relatives avoid having to ring their elderly parents to nag about missed medication and mealtimes.
Called Lively, the product is the latest entrant to the emerging connected home market and an attempt to sell a home monitoring system that doesn't give users a creeping feeling of unease about Big Brother.
Instead of video cameras or GPS monitoring, the system relies on "activity" sensors not much bigger than a box of matches that are attached to certain objects – for example, a key ring, pill box or the front door.
While the system can't report for certain if medication has been taken, it can "infer" activity - sensors connect wirelessly to a hub in the house, which then updates an online activity report. The idea is that family members can check a dashboard on their phone or computer to see if an elderly relative has been using a pill box, for example, or perhaps if they have left the house.
Australia is the first international market for the product, which was co-founded in Silicon Valley by an ex-Apple worker and designed by the same firm that designed the Nest Smart Thermostat (recently bought by Google for US$3.2 billion) and the GoPro HERO3. In Australia, Lively is being distributed by Hills, the company that invented the iconic Hill’s Hoist washing line in the 1940s.
The significance of Lively is the product's price and that it is less intrusive than previous attempts at home monitoring, argued the product's co-founder David Glickman.
"What we found in our research is that all the solutions before were too intrusive," he said. "Like a video camera in home to watch your mother. Not surprisingly elders said 'I don't want that in my home'. They were quite expensive and complicated to setup."
Glickman is hoping the price of Lively – which costs $175 plus a monthly service fee of $19.95 – will be attractive when compared with other medication compliance and video monitoring systems, which he said can cost $500 or more.
"A lot of senior living communities are actually not for profit. Other difference between a $500 to $600 system and $175 system is massive, it changes the game for them."
Lively also doesn't require a home internet connection or Internet plan – the system uses a 2G data connection.
The product arrives at a time when the home automation category is tipped for significant growth in Australia over the next few years.
Analyst firm Telsyte is predicting revenues from "smart home automation" devices in Australia will grow from $160 million this year to $917 million in 2017. Potential sellers include wireless sensors, smart light bulbs, connected locks for security and connected irrigation systems for "smart gardening".
The market for devices like is also likely to get bigger as populations continue to age. Around 1.6 million Australians will access age services each year by 2023, up from 880,000 in 2009, according to the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council (ACIITC).
Industry groups have recently called for the government to provide funding to help increase ICT adoption in the aged care sector.
"This is a worldwide phenomenon," said Glickman. "If you look at the 80-90s demographic, in the last 20 years that demographic has almost doubled. The aging population continues to grow, people are living longer and they want to stay in own homes."