Brisbane’s Conpago is using robotics to help reduce isolation in aged care

- December 10, 2018 3 MIN READ

Loneliness and isolation is a key issue among the elderly: a UK report cited studies that suggest around five to 16 percent of the older population is lonely, while Australian Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt last year told the National Press Club that up to 40 percent of people in aged care facilities do not receive any visitors.

Cofounded by Mackenzie Jackson and Marley Brown, Brisbane startup Conpago aims to reduce loneliness and enable connection among the elderly living in aged care facilities.

“Meaningful social connections are an essential element for happy and healthy ageing. Yet one in three seniors in Australia are socially isolated,” Brown said.

“At Conpago, we have made it our mission to help elderly stay in touch with their loved ones. By empowering elderly into the digital age through our Conpago platform, we aim to create care communities in which elderly, family members and care providers are all connected.”

The core of the Conpago Suite offering is Companion, a tablet software designed with and for elderly users: with simplified functionality, it has the core elements of a smartphone, allowing users to make calls, send texts, make and receive calendar reminders, and keep up to date with what’s happening in their community.   

The Conpago Dashboard, meanwhile, is aimed at aged care providers, integrating with existing systems and allowing staff to check in with residents, update them about appointments, send medication reminders, and promote events.

The company’s mission is a personal one for both cofounders, who are both close to their grandparents.

“Essentially, we have both seen our grandparents losing touch with the family as people move interstate and overseas. This is compounded when the technology that is supposed to bring us together is sometimes too complicated and can make it difficult for the elders in our community to keep connected,” Brown said.

Conpago originally began life as a device looking to connect families with their elders through the making of a cup of tea before a pivot saw the cofounders shift their attention to the Conpago Suite.

“We began the old fashioned way, contacting as many people in the aged care industry as we could, sitting down with them, and hearing what they had to say. Once we had identified the gaps in the market and the industry pain points, we worked to fill them,” Brown said.

The shift saw the Conpago team take part in the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Robotics Accelerator earlier this year, where they began working with Pepper the robot, developed by SoftBank Robotics.

“Once we saw how well the elderly responded to Pepper, we knew we had to work Pepper into our existing platform. Pepper has the ability to bring people together and foster interaction,” Brown said.

As Brown explained, Pepper can be used to help reduce the demand of care delivery on staff by providing entertainment, providing help, and by simply being a companion.

“Pepper links into the Conpago Suite, and is then able to give residents access to all the information stored on the platform, including what events are in the facilities, and can assist with checking residents into these events as well,” Brown said.

Already rolled out in Elements Retirement Living in Springwood, Queensland, Pepper can also tap into the Conpago virtual community to stream live events or act as a communication device for guests, and run exercise classes and play games.

“Essentially, Pepper reintroduces the light touches within an aged care facility that workers often don’t have time for but that are important in maintaining health,” Brown said.

An added bonus, according to Brown, is that Pepper is entertaining for those both young and old, which in turn is seeing grandchildren eager to visit their grandparents’ facilities.

Conpago is one of a number of Australian startups targeting different aspects of the aged care space.

Among them is Billy – formerly known as Curo – which looks to keep the elderly in their own homes and out of aged care facilities for longer through a system of sensors installed in a home to monitor activity and identify any strange patterns.

While Brown acknowledges the competitors in the market, he believes there is no “complete aged care solution for independent living like the Conpago Suite.”

“There are simplified tablets and smartphones for elderly, smart wearables, and solutions for independent living,” he said.

“But the Conpago suite combines the key benefits of these three types of products, by offering solutions for client management, helping elderly connect to family and the community, and integrating with smart home technology and smart wearables.”

Looking to 2019, Brown said Conpago will be working to continue improving its offering as it grows across Australia and internationally.