Innovation

Cherry Home CEO: The Future Of Smart Homes And Independent Senior Living

When talking about advances in home automation and artificial intelligence (AI)-guided systems for consumers, the conversation has a natural tendency to drift toward younger consumers, particularly millennials. That focus isn’t unwarranted, as there are 75 million millennials, and the older half of that generation (the group PYMNTS has termed Bridge Millennials) is much more likely than the average consumer to own a smart device, and more likely to use it to make a purchase. It’s fertile — and potentially revenue-rich — ground to tap.

However, it’s not the only fertile and revenue-rich ground to tap when it comes to building smart products, even if it is the most-often courted. In fact, it might even be their grandparents’ generation.

Today, there are roughly 50 million Americans over the age of 65, according the U.S. Census Bureau, and that number will rise sharply over the next decade. By 2030, the Census estimates there will be 78 million Americans over the age of 65.

According to Cherry Home CEO and Co-founder Max Goncharov, in a recent conversation with Karen Webster from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show, it was that sharply climbing number of senior citizens in the U.S. that first drew Cherry to the segment.

Cherry, in its first incarnation as Cherry Labs, started out working on a product to help smart appliances, like refrigerators, to more easily recognize human speech and add items to the shopping list. The company’s interest evolved, though, toward computer visioning and how it could be built into smart home technology — so that, instead of the user having to give a command, the system could “see” what the user needed, and respond appropriately.

The tech required to build that as a general market product, he noted, isn’t quite there yet.

At that point, its focus shifted to another opportunity and use case for human-centric AI tech: elderly care.

“And I say this from personal experience,” Goncharov told Webster. “My parents are in their 70s and live on the other side of the planet. I can call them, but I don’t find out enough — and setting up video cameras in their home would be a little intrusive.”

So, Cherry developed the Cherry Home device — a smart device equipped with computer-visioning technology, designed to monitor older users’ in-home behavior. The tech sends notifications whenever normal patterns change, or if there’s a dangerous event, such as a fall or significant stumble.

A New AI Frontier In Caregiving

In the Bay Area, where Cherry Home is currently in pilot, paying for in-home caregiving can become prohibitively expensive quickly — in the neighborhood of $20,000 per month, Goncharov said. While Cherry Home is not meant to supplant or replace that caregiver relationship, it is meant to help consumers optimize that relationship in a way that brings the costs down.

“We think the best way to bring down the costs of caregiving is to bring in caregivers for fewer hours a day to do all the physical stuff that needs to happen, and then let the rest of that time be handled automatically,” he said.

By Cherry, of course.

The device, he noted, “watches” seniors via its sensors, which are directed to keep track of certain behaviors that could signal when a senior might be in distress or have difficulty functioning: how often they eat or walk around, or their posture as they are walking. They are also on the lookout for certain changes (either over time or immediate changes like a fall to the ground). When sudden changes happen, the system is keyed to send notifications to caregivers, family members and other authorized receivers.

Those images, Goncharov noted, are not photo-realistic renderings of the users presented in full, bright technicolor, but skeletal overlays of a human-based image.

“We care a lot about privacy, so we remove the human picture — what you have [is] a human-shaped image. And so, the caregiver can understand what is going on without watching their loved one’s day-to-day life,” he explained.

A Better Understanding In Context

Webster wondered if Goncharov considered wearables — and their emerging capabilities around health monitoring — as areas of competitive concern, since they provide many of the same monitoring benefits, sans direct video surveillance. He acknowledged that wearable technology has a part to play in the emerging and growing field of smart tech for seniors, but noted that the service offerings aren’t really compatible. A wearable is something that its user can forget to wear, which means it can fail to gather any data in a way that Cherry Home does not.

“Also, we find the accuracy is higher with the computer-vision tech, and the range of situations it can be applied to is much wider,” he explained.

A wearable might be able to tell if a senior has fallen down, depending on the model. However, what it can’t tell is if a wearer’s overall pace is speeding up or slowing down, or if the consumer suddenly requires using a hand on a wall to maintain balance.

“One of the biggest challenges in caregiving is tracking whether a senior has enough to eat, and that they are eating on a regular schedule,” Goncharov said.

Today, he noted, the system has the ability to send alerts to caregivers when it notes those kinds of changes in behavior, so those issues can be addressed. The system, though, also plants the seeds for a future marketplace — where it can connect the seniors to the services they need. That might be medical care or something as simple as grocery delivery, but it all goes toward a common goal of allowing seniors to live independently, while still making sure their most important needs are monitored and met.

Keeping The Senior In The Driver Seat

Signing on for video surveillance, Goncharov noted, might be something of a challenge for privacy minded seniors. As well as it should be, he said  no one likes the idea of being watched.

“It is on us to convince them that Cherry won’t share too much information,” he explained, “and that we will find a balance so that the data we collect and send out is useful to protecting senior’s overall feelings of freedom and independence.”

The next five to 10 years will be critical for the industry of building out smart products for older consumers. That’s because the 25 million or so American adults who will be entering the over-65 demographic in the next decade will be increasingly tech-savvy and familiar with using smart connected devices to manage and enhance their lives. As Cherry can leverage this tech to bring more value to seniors (and make the amount of time that they can live independently longer, safer and healthier), Goncharov thinks they will begin to consider privacy differently in that context.

“I think seniors will care less about the hows and logistics behind the technology, and pay a lot more attention to how they are staying healthy and enjoying living their lives,” he said.

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