A £15,000 trial is under way to see how smart homer technology such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home could help people with learning disabilities live a more independent and fulfilling life.

The Innovate Trust is running the trial initiative in Wales with five people initially, it's hoped that as well as helping them to improve their lives that this smart home technology could eventually help save the care sector some serious money.

Being funded by Innovate to Save and run by Cardiff University and Nesta foundation collaboration - Y Lab.

The Innovate Trust currently provides a supported living service for around 275 people with learning disabilities in Wales.

Amazon Alexa.jpg

Its six-month trial at two supported living schemes in Rhondda Cynon Taff is exploring how "intelligent personal assistants" (IPAs) such as Amazon Echo or Google Home can reduce the need for staff to be at people's homes around the clock.

The trust said the technology could remind people when to take medication, attend appointments and carry out household chores.

Samantha Snell, 26, from Treorchy, has mild learning disabilities and has received support from the trust for the past four years.  She uses the technology to set reminders to go food shopping and cook, know when care staff are due to arrive and to control sensory lights in her house.

It also helps her to call friends and keep up-to-date with events being held by the trust via the calendar.

"I used to have staff 24 hours every day and they would remind me if I needed to be anywhere, they would call me in the mornings and help me cook," she said.

"Echo has given me more independence, I don't have to rely on staff so much now. It's really easy to use.

"It helps me with my moods because I'm a lot happier now."

Ron Woods, director of policy development and procurement for Innovate Trust, said the possibilities "were huge".

"It's increasing their independence and confidence, emotionally it's making them feel as if they're in control of their own care package and own lives, they're not so dependant on staff, and it's teaching them new skills," he said.

Amazon Alexa in teh home.jpg

"It's also to make the model of supported living more sustainable. It's well known in the care sector we could expand the use of technology."

In the long term it's hoped that initiatives like this could spread and improve the quality of life of many and save million of pounds in the care sector.

Ron Woods.jpg
At the moment [the technology] is controlled by voices... but we’re looking at if somebody doesn’t have clear speech or voice, could they use swipe technology to gently move their hand and indicate to technology that they want to do something. That’s the next step,”
— Ron Woods

Innovate to Save, which is supported by the Welsh Government and Wales Council for Voluntary Action have said that they will assess the success of each project at the end of the six-month trial.

If successful, Innovate Trust will be able to apply for a loan to expand the project.