Users can access Eve through a telephone-like device. Photo credit: Eve Communications Inc.

Ivan Wicksteed was first drawn to the “gray tech” space through a tragic personal connection. 

“My grandmother actually took her own life in her 90s,” Wicksteed told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “She outlived her husband by 20 years or so and, like a lot of people who reach that age, I think she felt quite isolated and alone. When that happened I was surprised and quite shocked. I didn’t really think that that happened with older people. I thought that suicide was something that happened to younger people. It turns out it’s actually much more common in the older age group.”

That disturbing event ultimately shifted his perspective and propelled his professional career. Today, Wicksteed is the founder and chief executive officer at Eve, which sells a device that has the appearance of a traditional rotary phone and serves as a companion for the elderly or other homebound people who might be prone to extended bouts of loneliness and isolation.

Unlike an AI assistant meant to perform simple tasks like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, Eve is a more engaging and mentally-stimulating technology, according to Wicksteed. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection. 

“[Alexa and Siri] are not designed as companions, they’re designed as assistants and there’s a big difference between an assistant and a companion,” Wicksteed said. “The assistant is there to be told what to do and a companion [like] Eve is there to be a friend and to be somebody who you can talk to. It’s a very different type of relationship.”

Each number on the dial represents a different service that Eve can provide. These services include “autobiographical mode,” which can help the user reconstruct their life story; “cooking mode,” which guides the user through a recipe; and classic “discussion mode,” which lets the user have a conversation with Eve on the topic of their choice.

If a break from talking with a computer is needed, human users can also communicate with each other in “Eve Connect mode,” where they are introduced to other homebound adults with similar interests or lifestyle choices. The simple user interface allows for frustration-free interaction that might be common when using modern devices.

“It’s a mode of communication that they’re familiar with, and if you want to talk to someone, the idea is that you can pick up a phone and have a conversation,” Wicksteed said. “In terms of intonation, Eve sounds exactly like a person; she also speaks many languages and has different accents. So if you prefer to speak to a man or a woman or speak Portuguese, she can also do that as well.”

While Wicksteed has used Eve with his parents back in the United Kingdom, he also believes his grandmother would’ve appreciated the technology. But he is quick to clarify that Eve is not intended to replace caregivers but act as a helpful supplement to their services. Friends can come in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes all we need is a comforting voice on the line with us. 

“There is no replacement for human care,” Wicksteed said. “Obviously, the ideal scenario is for somebody to have human interaction, but I do think that Eve can help do some of the work traditionally [associated with] social companions. She can do health check-ins in the morning and at night. If somebody needs to reach out, they can talk with Eve and send alerts, 24/7. I think she can address some of the gaps humans aren’t able to provide and act as an addition to the [caregiver.]” 

Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Special Projects Coordinator Foster Stubbs at [email protected].