We all forget to take our medicine now and again, but for some of us–and especially for the elderly, whom may be taking several different medications at once–that can be a matter of life and death. A number of services have attempted to address the problem with sleekly designed pill reminders. But the designers behind a new smart home product think that introducing more friction into the user experience may be key. Kintell has reminders to take medicine that can’t be turned off with a phone swipe or a voice-activated command–instead, you have to physically push a button.
Kintell, which launched today on Kickstarter, aims to help older people stay independent by encouraging healthy routines. The coffee mug-sized device can sit in any room of a house (or in multiple rooms) and it wakes users up; sends them reminders throughout the day to exercise, drink water, and take medications; and act as a night light to prevent falls. The Kintell has a small key on top, and if you remove it, the device sends an emergency alert to all the other Kintells in your home as well as to family and friends’ phones letting them know that the user needs help. For couples who live together, a group of Kintells scattered throughout the home can also be used as an intercom, so they don’t have to yell to get the other person’s attention on opposite ends of a house.
Add friction where you need it
The product accomplishes this primarily through voice technology, but unlike other voice-enabled devices, it’s not always listening to you. Instead, the microphone activates when you press a large button on the device’s face. This is primarily for privacy, but it also adds some key friction to the experience. For important reminders, like for taking medication, that are pre-set on the Kintell app, users have to press the button on the device to turn it off. It’s a clever UX move that forces the user to stop and pay attention–almost like putting your alarm clock away from your bed so you have to get up to make its annoying beeping stop. Other important but less crucial reminders, like to hydrate or exercise, can be turned off using one’s voice and don’t require pressing the button.
“Why does an elderly person want this? They recognize the habits they had in their 50s and 60s aren’t working as well when they’re in their 70s,” says Aaron Johnston, the CEO and cofounder of Kintell. Johnston, who was formerly the head of product at the kids’ tech company Technology Will Save Us, started Kintell with the goal of serving older people who don’t have a lot of products designed specifically for them. “How you eat, drink, exercise–those things change.”
Stick with what works
User testing with the elderly revealed important insights that informed the product design. Johnston found that older people want to learn one way of doing something and stick to it, without having to learn new pathways as the technology is updated. That’s part of the reason why Kintell is voice-activated–it’s something that an older person already knows how to do. And rather than being designed to look like an anthropomorphized robot (though it does have an animated face), the Kintell looks more like a cross between a speaker and a landline phone console. “There’s not much you have to learn how to do,” Johnston says.
The U.S. Census estimates that the number of people over the age of 65 will reach 84 million by 2050–double the number of elderly people in 2012. With rising healthcare costs and longer life spans, older Americans will want to stay active and independent for as long as possible. Johnston isn’t the only one betting that technology will help them do that. The market for assistive devices is growing, and research firm Coherent Market Insights projects it to be worth $26 billion by 2024. As with other consumer electronics, UX will play a crucial role in distinguishing between superfluous gadgetry and technology that genuinely helps people live independent lives.
The Kintell will be available via Kickstarter for $99 for one, $199 for three, and $299 for five.