LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Electronic Caregiver is an emerging national tech company, the kind that could readily be found in Silicon Valley.
But instead, it’s chosen to headquarter its operations in the Mesilla Valley — a fact the company made much more prominent over the weekend when its logo and name appeared on the side of the Las Cruces Tower, the tallest building in the city.
The 60-employee company has its roots in a home-security business. But nearly a decade ago, company officials foresaw a future shift in client demand, not simply for home security devices but for ones that help to ensure the personal health and safety of elderly residents living at home by themselves. Electronic Caregiver was born.
The company occupies the 10th floor and part of the first floor of the Las Cruces Tower. It also maintains warehouse space elsewhere in Las Cruces.
After years of scientific research and $14 million invested in software and product development, company officials believe the business is poised for bumper growth, thanks to a growing potential customer base and heightened public interest in the types of products they’re creating.
A BOOMING CUSTOMER BASE
The U.S. population of seniors 65 and older totaled 43 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But that’s expected to nearly double in size by 2050, reaching 83.7 million as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
In addition to greater numbers of seniors, people are tending to live longer, and they’ll be dealing with many of the health conditions seniors experience, such as heart disease, respiratory problems, visual and hearing decline, and bone and joint problems, said Tony Dohrmann, CEO of Electronic Caregiver. With that in mind, the company set out to invent technology that would fill gaps it identified in the need for senior health and senior care services.
“The products we put together are going into the market, and they’re being widely adopted,” he said.
The company’s goal is to create smart technologies that help seniors stay independent as long as possible, said Bryan Chasko, chief technology officer for Electronic Caregiver. He said the devices are like a “personal smart-home system for your body and health.
“We are in the mission of aging in place,” he said. “We want to keep people in their homes longer than previous generations.”
Company officials say their products go beyond the call-for-help pendants that have tended to characterize the personal safety monitoring devices for the elderly. Rather, they also tackle problems such as monitoring a person’s activity levels to make sure the individual isn’t unconscious, determining if a person is adhering to a doctor-prescribed treatment plan, and checking if the person is taking prescription medication on time and in the right amounts. They give access to on-the-spot medical consultation, via a partner company in Syracuse, New York.
The first wave of Electronic Caregiver devices went on the market in the fourth quarter of 2017. Dohrmann said they’ve been well received. Saturday, March 30 turned out to be the company’s biggest single day yet in terms of new client growth, he said.
The main system consists of a wristband, a portable remote device and a docking station for charging the remote. The wristband works in tandem with the remote and serves as a backup safety feature.
The services built into the devices are purchased on a subscription basis. And they range in cost from $40 to $79 a month.
Chasko said the devices are gaining interest from younger clients, too, as a way to monitor personal safety or the status of a person with a chronic disease.
“We have families sending their kids to college with these things,” he said.
Dohrmann said the release of another major product — a tablet-based, interactive virtual medical assistant known as Addison — is set to happen this summer. It will be able to do everything the wristband system does, as well as additional functions such as collecting key vitals and monitoring for falls. As part of that, an animated character, known as Addison, verbally interacts with users. The aim is to give a friendly, compassionate face to technology, he said.
“We’re using AI (artificial intelligence),” Dohrmann said. “We’re using visual sensing. We’re using augmented reality techniques.”
Plans are for the system to be multilingual. Addison-based services are expected to range from $199 to $499 monthly. Dohrmann said it will be a comprehensive product.
“It’s like having a full-blown caregiver in the house 24 hours a day,” he said.
Trying to gauge whether he or she might be at increased risk for falling, one of the biggest hazards seniors face, has been a big focus of Electronic Caregiver. Dohrmann said the company more than six years ago began designing a plan about how to collect and analyze data on gait — the way a person walks. And in-depth research in collaboration with New Mexico State University began. The company took a mobile lab on the road to gather data on individuals’ gait.
The idea is that early detection of certain changes in a person’s walking patterns can serve as a forewarning of falls, said David Keeley, biomechanist and Electronic Caregiver’s director of clinical research. The research has led to publications of roughly 10 scientific papers, and a number of technology patents have been filed.
“We’re putting out a lot of intellectual property protections,” he said.
In addition to offering the Addison system to customers, the company is proposing to deploy Addison-enabled kiosks at pharmacies, doctor’s offices and other places across the country to assess a person’s gait and risk of falling. To get an assessment, a person will follow the instructions and walk in a designated pattern in front of the kiosk, in addition to answering a series of questions.
WHY LAS CRUCES
So why didn’t Electronic Caregiver choose a bigger city for its headquarters?
Dohrmann said there are several reasons he likes Las Cruces, including the fact that there’s not a long commute. Because the company isn’t in a California metropolis, employees don’t spend hours a day commuting to and from the office, he said.
“We spend our time working and collaborating, not on freeways and traffic,” he said.
Also, Dohrmann said New Mexico State University is a nearby resource, producing talented graduates and working collaboratively on research.
Chasko says when he’s looking to hire a new employee, a go-to place for referrals is NMSU.
Electronic Caregiver employs 60 people now across a spectrum of professions, including physicists, nurses, accountants, computer scientists and digital artists. And company officials expect to hire at least another 50-70 people in the next year, particularly programmers, customer service reps and accounting specialists, among others.
Dohrmann said the company’s innovation has been attracting some national attention, such as from Amazon Web Services, which recently tweeted about the company. Electronic Caregiver is planning a big display at the Consumer Electronics Show in early 2019 in Las Vegas.
Also, the company is planning a convention for its investors in Las Cruces in early May, an event that will be paired with a border regional health summit.
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com