Black & Decker is moving into the smart home with a mesh Wi-Fi router and an innovative home healthcare assistant Credit: Black DeckerSupplied Art
Business Management

Black & Decker is moving into the smart home with a mesh Wi-Fi router and an innovative home healthcare assistant

Whether the Black & Decker brand conjures images of power tools or home appliances such as the Dustbuster, you probably don’t think of it in the context of the smart home. That could soon change.

The company is developing two devices that can be used together or apart. Pria is a digital assistant designed to help seniors age in place, instead of moving into a nursing home or an assisted-living center. Omni is a new mesh Wi-Fi router that leverages what Pria can do, but it can also operate on its own as a high-end home network.

Pria is a voice-recognizing digital assistant with a video component, but it’s optimized for home healthcare—particularly for the elderly and the younger generation helping to care for them. It’s designed to be as non-invasive as possible (it’s HIPAA compliant), while allowing a caregiver to monitor the person’s activity so they can ensure they’re taking their medications, drinking enough water, going to the bathroom, getting enough exercise, and the like, without needing to deploy cameras and motions sensors all around the house or forcing the person to wear anything.

pria pill wheel Michael Brown / IDG

The Pria’s pill wheel is mounted to the back of the device, but pills can be easily loaded via a hopper at the top (those are jelly beans inside).

A simple animated face light up when Pria is summoned with the “Hey, Pria” wake word. The device is designed to sit on a counter in a frequently occupied area of the home, such as the kitchen, and it not only supports two-way audio and video, but it can also automatically dispense up to 28 doses of medication (in pill form) on a schedule that the caregiver sets up using the Pria app.

Pria notifies the person being cared for when it’s time to take their medication, and a camera with facial recognition software verifies that the right person is taking the pills. A second camera and a proximity sensor detects when the pill cup is taken out and when it’s put back. A third camera monitors the pill dispensing wheel to make sure the pills were properly dispensed and didn’t get stuck.

Push notifications are sent to the caregiver if the pills are not taken according to schedule or if there are any other issues, such as the wrong person taking the medication. The device can also provide daily reminders to do things that will help them stay healthy, such as drinking water, exercising, or reminding them of a doctor’s appointment. Pria has other features, too, but it’s a very exciting product that we’re looking forward to testing in depth. Black & Decker expects to ship the device sometime in the second quarter and is anticipating a retail price of $500 with a monthly subscription fee of $40.

omni 2 Michael Brown / IDG

Pria Pods (left) extend the reach of the Omni mesh Wi-Fi router (right) and can also be used as unconventional motion detectors.

Omni whole-home mesh Wi-Fi

Omni is a tri-band, whole-home Wi-Fi mesh router based on the Wi-Fi 5 standard (aka 802.11ac), supporting four spatial streams in each direction. It is designed to be an all-purpose router for any home, but it is particularly well optimized to work with Pria.

Black & Decker will offer Wi-Fi nodes it calls Pria Pods that will not only expand the router’s range, but that also detect small disruptions in the mesh as people move around the house. As such, the Pria Pods (and the plug-in Omni nodes) can replace motion detectors. When used with the Pria, Pria Pods allow the caregiver to monitor in the least-invasive way possible how the person being cared for is moving around the house. Have they gotten out of bed? Have they been to the kitchen to get water? Have they been to the bathroom? And so on.

Black & Decker expects to ship Omni in the first half of 2019. It will sell for $299, plus $5 per month for services including cybersecurity, parental controls, and more.

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