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'Smart flat' in Norwich to show how Amazon's Alexa can keep people out of care homes

PUBLISHED: 17:12 23 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:16 23 August 2018

Amazon Echo will be highlighted in the smart flat. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Amazon Echo will be highlighted in the smart flat. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

A 'smart flat' is being developed to highlight how technology, such as devices which use Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, can help keep older and vulnerable people out of care homes.

Norfolk County Council is to work with Norwich charity Rotary House for the Deaf to create the demonstration flat in Norwich’s King Street.

Bosses at County Hall are hoping the use of assistive technology will save £1.5m over the next three years, but insist it will not become a substitute for human contact.

The council says 7,000 people are already using gadgets, ranging from Amazon Echo, to specialist devices which can tell if somebody has fallen over. That has cost £275,000.

But social workers are assessing a further 2,000 people a year to see if they could benefit from such devices, with three more members of staff to be added to the assessment team.

Bill Borrett, chairman of the adult social care committee, said: “This is a very exciting development. Most people want to live in their own homes for as long as possible – and, increasingly, technology can make the difference.

“That’s why we’re setting up a demonstration flat, so people can see for themselves. Whether it’s smart speakers that can remind people about appointments, or sensors which provide peace of mind for people’s relatives, it’s something that the county council is keen to expand.”

The ‘smart flat’ is due to open later this year, while the council is also setting up an innovation centre at County Hall, to show how technology can help people at home and at work.

The flat will not be open to the public, but viewings will need to be arranged via the Rotary House for the Deaf and the council.

But a council spokesman stressed: “Assistive technology must never be a substitute for human contact but it can provide additional reassurance and support, for older and vulnerable people and their relatives.”

In March, Amazon visited County Hall to demonstrate how their technology can keep people independent.

The Amazon Echo carries out commands when users activate it by saying the 
name ‘Alexa’. The device is linked to WiFi and users can ask Alexa to answer questions, play music, order shopping, turn on lights or thermostats.

It can also give reminders about when to take medication or send out alerts in the case of a fall.

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