Silverfox is a one-click button for seniors with a companion app for family and friends that provides peace of mind in emergencies and assistance in daily life. The goal was to find the right balance between digital assistance and human interactions without being too complex or intrusive. A simple voice and messaging assistant creates engagement between seniors and care circle. It allows seniors to live independently whilst being connected to those people who matter most, when it matters most.
Bringing human-centred technology to an underserved elderly population
More than half of the population in developed nations will soon be over retirement age. Of those receiving elderly care, 80% want to live at home, not in institutions.
Emergency buttons for seniors are stigmatising, expensive, and offer no support in daily life. Screen-based and smart home solutions are too expensive or too complicated for many seniors, especially when they have physical or psychological impairments. Home care services are chronically overburdened and often inflexible to cater to the specific time and price demands of seniors.
The one-button assistant to connect seniors and care circle for safe and independent living
Silverfox comprises a wearable device for the senior and a caregiver app. The device automatically senses an emergency through motion detection, a call for help or the press of button. Through the device's microphone, seniors can talk directly to their care circle – wherever they are. Instead of an anonymous call centre, seniors would often rather turn to the people they know and trust first. This could be family, friends, neighbours, or private nurses. Since every user is different, the service is customisable to individual safety and privacy needs through the caregiver app. The assistant can raise awareness of potentially dangerous patterns, like activity loss or wandering. It can also support in daily life through medication reminders or voice notifications.
Tackling the opportunity of "tech for the elderly"
Silverfox is the result of an internal initiative at BCG Digital Ventures and seeks to bring technology to the elderly demographic. The projects founder, Andreas, spotted a gap in the services offered to seniors choosing to live at home; they completely ignored their families and the advances of modern, digital technology. While in other industries and sectors mobile and Internet of Things were spreading rapidly to meet every imaginable need, the elderly care industry seemed stagnated.
Uncovering functional, emotional and social aspects through design research
Through dozens of interviews with seniors, families, and professionals, the team has found that current products do not sufficiently meet the functional and emotional needs of independent living, social interaction, and everyday assistance. They are often stigmatising with their clunky exterior and neglected aesthetic appeal, as if elderly people didn't care what products they surround themselves with. This, of course, could not be further from the truth – oftentimes physical objects have high sentimental value to seniors, and they have the potential to empower the elderly and give them a feeling of identity and independence.
The next layer of the issue relates to family relationships. Due to extremely high social mobility, it is becoming rare for parents and children to live in the same city or even general region. Keeping in touch with grandparents and caring for elderly family members is becoming increasingly difficult. There are few products and services that support that need. Emergency alert buttons supplied to seniors often connect them with an emergency response centre. The team found through interviews that seniors would prefer to talk to their loved ones first. Frequently, they find the situation embarrassing or too personal to share with a stranger.
Additionally, the business models built around conventional panic buttons are becoming obsolete. A large number of triggered calls are not real emergencies; often, the senior feels lonely, has forgotten what the button does and presses it out of curiosity, or simply presses it by accident. Sustaining large call centres for such events is incredibly costly.
Combining human-centred design processes with agile development
The team followed a human centred approach to work on the wearable and app. Because Silverfox is such a personal product, woven right in to the fabric of family interactions, it could not be based on assumptions or macro-trends. This is why the product was developed iteratively through constant testing. The wearable went through six big iteration where the team tested ideas ranging from smart shirt button to modified smartwatch and everything in between. The threefold form of bracelet, brooch and necklace was found to be the most convenient and attractive for seniors, as it can be adapted for different genders, daily routines and personal styles. The one button haptic interface of the wearable is key to ensure quick emergency response, even for elderly people struggling with forgetfulness or unaccustomed to modern technology. This meant the ecosystem had to be accessible for users of all ages and technology familiarity levels.
The app was also extensively tested and the team finally arrived at a card-based interface that allows to gage the status of the wearable at a glance. At a deeper level, a full history of incidents and actions can be found. This lets the whole care circle stay up-to-date with what is happening, even if they are temporary unavailable to take a call. The biggest struggle on the mobile side was accommodating for different levels of proficiency and different devices. In many cases, the relatives who care for the senior day-to-day, live nearby and can react the fastest, belong themselves to a generation not inherently familiar with mobile technology. Frequently, they use an older mobile device or a landline to stay in touch with loved ones. During the beta test, the team even saw setups where a couple of seniors would be each others first responder. The chosen technology stack allows for further development of software functionalities based on user response.
Holistic design of user experience, technology and business model
As part of the venture design approach, Silverfox was piloted with selected users and their families. Over the course of a few months, the venture team built, tested, and iterated on the interaction, industrial, and electronic design. Along with the minimum viable product, the BCGDV team created a unique business model that caters to the individual needs of users with low tech-savviness and budget. The Silverfox alert and assistance service is purposefully built to connect the care circle across platforms and devices – from the senior's wearable to landline, mobile and smartphone. By choosing family and friends as first responders, the service comes at a much cheaper price than any other emergency button, whilst also allowing for daily assistance and personal interaction.