Amazon Alexa will soon help people check in on aging relatives, with new skill from State Farm

Key Points
  • State Farm and Amazon are both looking for ways to provide additional services to seniors, a big and growing demographic.
  • State Farm's Alexa skill will provide options such as check-ins and suggested social activities to help family members coordinate with each other.
  • Mark Oakley says he developed the skill after he and his siblings struggled to care for their father, who was living independently.
Amazon Echo Show 5

State Farm, the provider of car, home and life insurance, is working with Amazon on a new Alexa tool that helps people stay in contact with their aging family members.

The skill, as Amazon calls Alexa apps, will allow owners of Amazon Echo Show devices to share alerts and check-ins so adult children and caregivers can know that their relatives are safe and in the right place. State Farm's research team developed the skill in recent months and will roll it out with a list of activities and suggested events for users.

Along with a State Farm-developed mobile app, the skill creates "a virtual circle of support, coordination and communication at any time of the day while delivering a personalized experience to the senior," the insurance company said in a statement to CNBC.

Amazon has been researching ways for its technology to help seniors, a huge and growing demographic, and the company is also exploring how its voice assistant can support skills that manage sensitive health information so users can get things like medication reminders. The 2010 U.S. census found that one in five residents will be 65 or older by 2030, and many of them will want to live independently as long as possible.

Mark Oakley, State Farm's senior vice president of the labs team, said the idea came to him based on a personal experience. Last year, he and his siblings struggled to stay in touch with their father, who was living independently. Most of their communication took place in disparate ways, by phone or e-mail, and he thought there must be a better way to coordinate care.

He started working on a skill for the Amazon Echo that wouldn't feel intrusive or make a senior feel old. Oakley said he's also thinking about ways to bring kids into the mix to further motivate grandparents to stay engaged with more family members.

For now, State Farm is focused on providing reassurance to caregivers and supporting seniors and isn't currently looking at health features such as medication reminders. Oakley said data won't be shared across business lines so it can't be used to discriminate against users when it comes to insurance products.

Oakley said he's only working on the Echo at the moment and not any other smart speaker such as the Google Home.

"We liked the voice and touch elements, and Amazon is the leader in terms of market share," he said.

The service will be tested in trials in the coming months and is expected to launch in 2020. State Farm hasn't yet determined if seniors or caregivers will have to buy the Echo devices or whether insurance will cover them.

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