This is outstanding.
“We spent three months sitting down in care homes, talking to older people about problems in their daily lives; every time it came back to loneliness and isolation,” says Ewan Marshall, co-founder of SpeakSet. “And we thought ‘how can we solve this with technology?'”
SpeakSet is a set-top box that connects to any television to provide a pared down Skype-like video calling service that can be controlled using a simple remote. It aims to reduce social isolation by allowing face-to-face contact with anyone in the world via a familiar device in the home — “Older people don’t have laptops and tablets,” says Marshall. It can be remotely managed, and can make calls to any device.
The SpeakSet box plugs into any TV in Europe via Scart. This older port was chosen to cover off a larger number of televisions and because it allows for instant source switching to the SpeakerSet interface as soon as the device is powered up, meaning there’s no need to change the channel before accessing the voice call functionality.
The team has been developing SpeakSet for a year, visiting care homes with prototypes and even running hackathons where the residents were able to design their own devices. “Every time we went in a doctor or carer would run in and say ‘I desperately need this to connect with patients in a more sensible way’,” says Marshall. Loneliness has been found to exacerbate conditions including Alzheimer’s, dementia and diabetes. This led the team to focus on the healthcare applications for the device — it could be used by the elderly to not only talk to loved ones, but to have virtual consultations with doctors, who can make calls by logging into the SpeakSet system via their web browser.
Good design is about solving problems. It’s truly awesome that the SpeakSet team deliberately set out to uncover a specific problem and figure out how design could in fact address that very problem. By going directly to the potential users, they were able to tackle not just the problem of loneliness and isolation for the elderly, they tackled the need for a user-friendly device that worked with older, ubiquitous technology as well.