“Alexa, call my grandkids.”
That’s one verbal command the residents of Bruyère Village in Orléans will now be able to make from the comfort of their room thanks to a partnership between Ottawa non-profit Connected Canadians and Amazon Canada.
The Alexa Smart Properties system will have its Canadian debut at Bruyère as a six-month pilot program, with 50 Alexa-enabled Echo 8 devices being deployed to residents.
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“We would also be providing support to the seniors, in case they need help in trying to understand or feel comfortable with the device,” said Emily Jones Joanisse, Connected Canadians co-founder and CEO. “That’s basically our non-profit core.”
Joanisse said the device’s “drop-in” feature — which allows staff to connect with residents via voice and video — was one thing that motivated Bruyère to try the pilot.
“It can be incredibly helpful … because it means that folks can drop in to the rooms, check that folks are okay and they don’t need to put on a whole hazmat suit,” she said, referring to COVID precautions.
The system allows property owners like Bruyère to customize and coordinate Alexa-enabled devices at scale. Providing meal menus, activity schedules, announcements or receiving service requests are a few of the ways the devices can be configured to serve residents’ needs. Customizing the system to Bruyère’s needs is the focus of the pilot.
“We believe the intuitive and accessible nature of voice and Alexa has the potential to help and delight customers in many scenarios, in and outside of the home,” said Celine Lee, Alexa Canada country manager. “We’re excited to extend the Alexa experiences customers already love to senior living communities and give providers new ways to save time and personalize care for their residents.”
Connected Canadians has an existing relationship with Bruyère and partnered with Amazon in 2021 to train and support individual seniors to use 500 donated Echo devices.
“So we were kind of a very good fit when (Amazon) was looking to launch it in this space, to try to find a partner that has both the knowledge base of senior use cases and have connections with senior communities as well,” says Tas Damen, co-founder and chief information officer with Connected Canadians.
Damen says that the 2021 pilot showed seniors were most comfortable interacting with simple voice-activated devices that had more of a “companion feel” than a keyboard, mouse or touchscreen.
She notes that Alexa Smart Properties will give administrators the ability to make the devices even more user-friendly through customized features like trusted contact lists, community-specific reminders, or even direct calls to Connected Canadians when seniors need help with the devices or any other technology.
Connected Canadians is a national non-profit that supports and trains Canadian seniors in the use of technology. Many of its volunteers are new immigrants with technology skills who benefit from applying their skills in a Canadian context. Connected Canadians received a Bootstrap Award for Community impact in June of 2022. It was founded in Ottawa and aims to provide free training and support to all Canadian seniors by 2030.