"Give your loved ones their freedom and independence"
I recently saw a television ad for Buddi, a device that promises to help elderly and infirm people get on with their lives. It's similar to the old 'help' buttons that people can carry which place an emergency call when pressed.
But Buddi takes this into the 21st century: it's essentially a small GPS satellite-navigation receiver that can be easily carried in a pocket or a bag. We took a look at one.
There are several ways in which it can be used. To start with, the device can be tracked using the Buddi website. Obviously it's necessary to set up a user name and password to get in and see where the Buddi is, which prevents prying eyes.
There are two rubber buttons on either side of the Buddi, and when these are pressed together for a few seconds the device makes contact with the website and requests an emergency alert, of which more later.
There's also a 'fall alert' - if the user falls while wearing Buddi, an accelerometer inside it sends an alert. And it's possible to set a boundary on the website - whenever the device leaves the boundary an alert is sent.
The alerts take the form of emails, calls or text messages. You can set several contacts on the site and choose which of them is contacted when, and using which method. The system will try the first-preference method first, then the second, and so on.
Of course, as with all such devices, its utility depends on the person to whom it's given carrying it around with them all the time. The makers recommend it for the elderly and for children, though both constituencies may be equally reluctant to take it with them, or might simply forget to pick it up before going out.
Updates can be given by phone or text message if the carers don't have internet access, and of course the holder of the Buddi doesn't need internet access, as the device itself is automatic. However, if it goes out of range for GPS or mobile network reception (it has a mobile Sim card with which it communicates) it won't work.
The box, which is around 5cm square and less than a couple of centimetres tall, is charged using a micro-USB connection (a mains charger is supplied in the box). The battery will last more than two days if there's not much activity, or as little as a day if there's a lot going on. That's one of the flaws: you then have to rely on the holder not only carrying it with them but also charging it every day.
Still, Buddi worked well for both tracking and alerts, and the website is clear and easy to use. Pricing varies depending on contracts: you can pay £749 outright for service as long as it's required, or pay £299 plus £10 a month, or £35 a month with no up-front fee. Other plans are available, for instance if you need more than one device.
The price is not too high for something that provides peace of mind, but the main flaw, as far as we can see, is the battery life: you'll need to rely on someone to charge the device every day or every other day in order to make sure it works.
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