Smartwatch CEO: They may not want a Fitbit, but seniors don’t want tech that screams ‘I’m old and out of control’

A digital health company has developed a hi-tech smartwatch for seniors that uses GPS and Bluetooth technology to make sure seniors get help when they’ve fallen or need medical attention. It also acts functions as a medication reminder and navigator if users lose their way. Serial entrepreneur Jean Anne Booth the co-founder and CEO of […]

A digital health company has developed a hi-tech smartwatch for seniors that uses GPS and Bluetooth technology to make sure seniors get help when they’ve fallen or need medical attention. It also acts functions as a medication reminder and navigator if users lose their way.

Serial entrepreneur Jean Anne Booth the co-founder and CEO of UnaliWear gave a demo of its Kanega watch at the MidAmerica Healthcare Venture Conference. It vibrates like a phone if the user falls and asks them if they need help. If they say yes, it gives them the option of transmitting an alert to a caregiver or neighbor or contacting 911. For navigation help, users list activities and their location. If they get lost, they just need to tell the watch and it starts showing directions like an arrow pointing left or right until they get back home.  It also flashes medication reminders across the screen.

Another part of the watch is that users are encouraged to give it a name to make it easier when they address it. She admits it looks a little like Dick Tracy, which can be nice for a generation that grew up with that series. Although some give it a celebrity name like Fred Astaire, most have preferred using a childhood pet name.

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The company recently finished a Kickstarter campaign to support beta testing for its Kanega watch. She describes it as a purpose-built watch that makes sense. It has also has angel investors. It is in the process of courting institutional investors to give them the extra financial push to get the watch on the market. Booth said because it is a something of a crossover product, it makes it tougher to define for investors. “We’re solving a problem, not fostering a technology.”

Terms like the quantified self don’t resonate with the seniors in the focus groups it’s conducted with 90-100 seniors. Sure, they recognize a Fitbit, but they wouln’t use one. But even if they’re open to having a wearable monitor around their wrist, they don’t want something that screams “I’m old and out of control.” It can be used indoors and outside and it’s discreet. On the latter point, it uses Bluetooth low energy, which Booth claims can communicate with the latest generation of hearing aids. It also functions as a telehealth gateway, she added.

Booth, who trained as an electrical engineer, worked in the semiconductor sector prior to heading up UnaliWear. She sold her previous company to Texas Instruments. She said she decided to co-found the company because of her mom — 80 years old but independent and living about 1.5 hours from Austin in San Antonio. She wanted a way to help adult children like herself look after their parents from a distance. Her mother also stars in the promotional videos. Booth admits that one scene in particular — where she lies down in the grass calling out for her help, was tough to do. It wasn’t due to the emotional impact of the scene, but because her mom kept cracking up in laughter as she lay on the ground.

The watch is expected to retail for roughly $299 with a monthly fee of $35-$85 depending on the number of services the purchaser requests. Most of the people it expects to buy the watch are just like Booth — adult children who want a little more security for a parent.