Smart-tech way to connect with others

Philip Hogan has created Ireland's first age-friendly computer, helping families to connect easily, says Rowena Walsh
Smart-tech way to connect with others

Philip Hogan has created Ireland's first age-friendly computer, helping families to connect easily, says Rowena Walsh

WHEN it comes to the ACORN, Ireland’s first age-friendly tablet computer, Liam Devitt’s feelings are crystal clear: “The ACORN is brilliant.”

The tablet was created specifically for older people and it aims to make digital technology more accessible for users. It is easy to navigate and uses clear, uncluttered displays to make online access to common features more intuitive than standard platforms.

Liam, who describes himself as “82 years young”, first discovered the ACORN at the Ideal Homes Show last October.

The tablet is the brainchild of Irish entrepreneur Philip Hogan. He was inspired to create it after taking his father to see Dermot Power, a professor of geriatrics.

“Dermot talked to me about the impact of social isolation and loneliness on the health of some of his patients,” says Philip. “We were fortunate enough that, as a family, we lived close enough to my father. He was well supported, as was my mother. We’re quite a tight bunch.”

He knew a lot of other families mightn’t be as lucky, however, and realised that social isolation among older people was a very significant problem.

Philip had founded a successful telecommunications company in Dublin and, having left the industry, wanted to take on a project with a social component.

He and his colleagues at Cliffrun Media did a lot of research around the work carried out by the World Health Organisation about the needs of older people, focusing on five elements: Communication, health, security, finance, and independence.

“We engaged with older persons’ communities and councils through the Age Friendly Ireland programme and, the more we talked to these individuals and the more we presented our ideas and design concepts, the more it changed our perception of what we needed to do.”

Philip says it probably took twice as long and twice as much money to create and develop the ACORN as he thought it would, but that eventually “we boiled it down to having something that was equitable to an Apple or a Samsung but easier to use.

“We built the product on the premise that it had to be accessible.”

The font size on the ACORN is bigger than normal; the developers used plain language where they could rather than computer jargon; they avoided unfamiliar icons and the colours used are high contrast and bright so that they are easier on the eye.

Users can access the internet while out and about and ACORN also offers video/audio calls and messaging and email, as well as a customisable news feed. Family, friends, and carers can stay connected to ACORN by downloading the companion app on their mobile devices, meaning they can always stay in touch with their loved ones.

Philip says the ACORN attracts two buyers: The older person themselves but also family members who see it as a connectivity tool between family and parent.

Liam, who describes himself as reasonably tech savvy, particularly likes the simple three-button system that can be used to get support from family or a carer. “It goes from notifying them that you’d like to have a conversation or you want them to contact you to alerting them that you are in some difficulty and you need them to come to your assistance and it also simultaneously alerts the emergency services.”

Philip says voice activation is being introduced into the next release of the ACORN, due in the summer. Liam thinks this is “marvellous. Anybody with manual dexterity problems — for example, somebody with Parkinson’s or severe digital arthritis — will be able to use every aspect of the tablet just by voice command.”

Another development is an integrated health project. “We’re involved in a project with the Mater Hospital and the HSE,” says Philip, “which enables patients to convalesce at home. Some of our technology is being used to monitor them remotely, so clinicians can keep an eye on them as they convalesce. We’re looking at integrating some of those features into the product so people can monitor their own health using a very simple interface.”

Philip also plans to integrate security services into the device and hopes people will eventually be able to use the ACORN to manage their finances.

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