Wally, a soft-spoken man with a grand presence, spent most of his life farming sweet potatoes. As my wife’s grandfather, he was an amazing person. When Wally moved into a senior living facility, like many others, he began to lose track of daily tasks such as what time it was, if he had taken his medicine, and when his favorite western shows were on. For most, this is just part of aging and technology is not geared towards the elderly. That’s where I came in.
Inspired by the success of the Amazon Alexa, which had just been released, I decided to build Wally a digital assistant. I wanted it to blend into his surroundings, be easy to use, and be geared towards his generation and condition. That’s how the “Wally Board” was created.
The Wally Board was purposely built for family and care facilities to control remotely. It was constructed using inexpensive Chinese Android tablets and a native Android application that put the device in kiosk mode and displayed the content using a web-view which was programmed and controlled through a portal built on Meteor.js. Users were able to create slide decks with custom information for the intended recipient. Calendars, meal plans and sports schedules with local channels could also be automatically added. Wally never missed a St. Louis Cardinals game in his life.
The device would automatically show the day and time and the weather with customized backgrounds. The original version was built into a picture frame, but as more residents at the facility saw Wally’s board, the demand for a portable version was created and I added a child’s foam tablet case. Residents would carry their Wally around the halls to help them remember what was for lunch or simply what time it was. The large display and ease of use was a massive help for many people.
Although the Wally Board was only implemented in a regional area, it received interest from other care facilities. However, the project required more resources than I was able to provide, given my other commitments at work and at home. Despite this, I consider the project a great success as it helped improve the quality of life for those who used it. It was also a valuable learning experience for me.