Five months ago, Perry Haldenby’s grandmother returned to her Toronto home from an evening party and fell, fracturing her hip.
Unfortunately, it was before she was able to turn her home monitoring system, equipped with a distress feature and purchased by her family, back on. She lay on the floor for two and a half hours, before Haldenby’s aunt, thankfully, decided to stop by and check in.
“We just thought, This is crazy. If she’d had a device that had worked anywhere, then she would have been wearing it all the time and would have gotten help right away,” Haldenby said.
Luckily for his grandmother, Haldenby was already in the midst of inventing such a device—one that would allow seniors to keep living active and independent lives, but also offer peace of mind to family members concerned about the possibility of an accident when no one is around to help.
In collaboration with his former University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering classmate, Jaclyn Konzelmann, Haldenby recently launched the Amulyte system.
Inside Amulyte’s small wearable pendant is a GPS tracker, WiFi capabilities, accelerometer, and a battery that, on average, can go for a week without being charged. But the most important feature of all is the thumb-print button on the pendant’s face—when pressed, it will alert a pre-determined list of contacts via text and email that the wearer is in need of assistance, and will pinpoint their location. One of the goals was to eliminate the need that many safety systems have for a base station (such as competitor system Lifeline by Philips)—Amulyte instead connects to an app, accessible on smartphones and tablets, that allows family members to see how active the wearer is, where they are, and even the pendant’s battery levels.
If all goes according to plan, the Amulyte will help its Canadian co-inventors successfully break into a large and rapidly growing market serving the needs of North America’s aging population. According to the Amulyte team’s research, after the age of 75, there’s a 50% chance that an individual will suffer a fall, noted Konzelmann.
Amulyte’s accelerometer in particular helps to detect when the wearer has fallen down. It senses both free fall and impact, and measures the amount of time following the impact before someone starts to move again—30 seconds to a minute without motion usually means that the wearer fell, and is in need of assistance or medical help.
The concern generated by having senior family members living on their own is an issue facing a lot of Canadian families. Census data from 2011 showed that the vast majority of Canadian seniors (over 90%) live in their own homes, rather than a seniors’ residence or health care facility. About 25% of this group also live alone, as opposed to living as a couple.
Konzelmann and Haldenby have made the 75+ age demographic their primary target for the time being, but have also envisioned ways in which the Amulyte system could be used in other aspects of the health care system.
If used in tandem with geo-fencing technology, for example, an Amulyte pendant could alert staff at nursing homes when a resident with Alzheimer’s or mild dementia has unwittingly left the property. The data gathered by the online portal could also be used by doctors to make recommendations regarding a patient’s physical activity, and kid-friendly versions of the device could be created for children and teens with certain medical conditions.
“I’m hesitant to say what our five-year goal is,” Konzelmann said. “There’s just so much out there that needs improving upon.”
Both Konzelmann and Haldenby had independently started looking into a device like Amulyte during their post-grad years, and were able to reconnect when Konzelmann returned to Canada after working for Microsoft in Seattle for two years. They started tossing around the idea of a tech product that could be worn at all times and activated in the event of an emergency.
Earlier this year, their idea started to gain traction, as Amulyte was chosen by start-up accelerator Y Combinator to participate in a three-month funding and mentorship program in Silicon Valley. Past YC alum include Reddit, Dropbox, and Airbnb.
In August, Konzelmann and Haldenby completed the program with a demonstration of their product’s most recent incarnation, and were chosen as one of the top eight in YC’s most recent batch of companies by TechCrunch.
The Amulyte program’s infrastructure is now up and running for a pilot group of clients, and is also currently available for pre-order (for a discounted price of $99). It will officially begin shipping early next year. Once the device is out on the market, it will retail for about $150 initially, and carry a monthly operating cost of $29 (which includes cell coverage, location coverage, unlimited text and email alerts, and low battery alerts). The start-up’s first year goal is to distribute between 10,000 and 15,000 units.
For now, the fledgling company will be based in Mountain View, at the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. They’ve undergone a round of angel investing, but are remaining mum for the time being about the identities of potential investors and partners.
Konzelman hopes Amulyte will act as an empowering product, one that will encourage seniors’ independence. As for where their company is headed in the future, Konzelmann said they’ve just started to scratch the surface of products and services that are widely available and popular amongst a younger generation, but haven’t yet been applied to seniors.
“Our generation as a whole has seen so much innovation and so many fun products that hit the market that are really helping us in our everyday lives,” she said. “I think there’s a lot more potential in terms of what we can come out with that’s helping a more senior population.”