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R2 Voice-Activated Digital Assistants to Support Health and Independence

Principal Investigator

Kenneth Blocker, M.S. & R. S. Sreenivas, Ph.D.


Wendy Rogers, Ph.D.


Husna Hussaini, Ki Lim, Vikram Ramavarapu, Kyre Williams



OSF Healthcare; Post-Polio Health International; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; Clark-Lindsey Village; Disability Resources and Education Services (DRES); CRIS Health Aging; University of Chicago; National Opinion Research Center (NORC)


Voice-activated digital assistants, such as the Amazon Alexa devices, have great potential to support people aging with mobility disabilities. Alexa can be integrated with a variety of smart home technologies, such as robotic vacuums and smart light bulbs, to help people with limited mobility complete activities at home as independently as possible.

In this project, we are conducting in-home evaluations of new digital voice assistant applications for smart home technologies being developed as part of the D4. Developing Voice-Activated Digital Home Assistants Project. We are specifically looking at applications to support people in controlling their home environment, engaging in physical activity, interacting with others, and managing their health. Through this research, we will explore to what extent the applications and the instructional user guide are practical, useful, and effective in improving the lives of users.

Two older Asian women using a smart speaker and electronic tablet while seated at a table at home.


Project Status

Congratulations to Kenneth Blocker, long-time team member of the TechSAge Digital Assistants R&D project, who will be assuming the role of Co-PI. Kenny is a Ph.D. student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Educational Psychology with an MS degree in Psychology. Kenny will be working closely with Co-PI Dr. RS Sreenivas, along with TechSAge Program Director Wendy Rogers.

We are preparing to begin our field trial in Spring 2022, which will provide our specially designed "Digital Assistance in a Box" technology suite to older adults with mobility disabilities to assess the benefits and barriers of integrating smart technology within their lives to assist with in-home daily activities. The Box contains a digital home assistant (Amazon Echo Show), smart light, and smart plug, as well as dedicated instructional materials designed with older adults in mind. These manuals were a product of the D4. Developing Voice-Activated Digital Home Assistants Project.

We developed our first two Amazon Echo User Guides: Basic Uses and Setting Up.

Travis Kadylak presented "Assessing and Developing a Suite of Digital Home Assistant Applications for Older Adults with Long-Term Mobility Disabilities” at the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) virtual conference.

Select Publications

Blocker, K. A., Kadylak, T., Koon, L. M., Kovac, C. E., & Rogers, W. A. (2020). Digital home assistants and aging: Initial perspectives from novice older adult users. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. SAGE Publications. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 

Koon, L. M., Khaleghi, R. Blocker, K. A., Rogers, W.A., Sreenivas, R.S. (2020). On Integrating Voice-Activated Digital Assistants with Smart Home Technologies to Support People with Long-Term Mobility Disabilities: Needs Assessment, Product-Selection and Implementation. Proceedings of the International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management, Dubai, UAE. (pp/ 513-514).  

Koon, L. M., McGlynn, S. A., Blocker, K. A., & Rogers, W. A. (2019). Perceptions of Digital Assistants From Early Adopters Aged 55+. Ergonomics in Design1064804619842501.

Project Alumni

Leonardo Galoso, Saahithya Gowrishankar, B.A, Travis Kadylak, Ph.D., Roshanak Khaleghi, Ph.D. Lyndsie Koon, Ph.D. & Cristopher Kovac, B.S., Maya Malecki, Satvika Veeravalli

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