IBM Cognitive Eldercare at SXSW

Showcasing an environment that helps our growing aging population live safely and independently

Role: Designer and Front-end Developer

Cognitive Eldercare is a part of IBM Accessibility Research and this year they wanted to showcase their Aging-in-Place smart home environment at IBM’s exhibition at SXSW.

Aging in Place leverages the Internet of Things and cognitive computing to monitor the daily activities and general health of our growing aging population so they can live safely and independently for as long as possible.

By integrating sensors and accelerometers in one’s home, their technology could monitor atmospheric readings in a person's home, such as carbon-dioxide and carbon-monoxide levels, to help determine what time someone wakes up and goes to bed, where a person is in the residence and how long they remained, or how many meals they eat and at what time. The technology can then learn from this data and recognize when something is unusual and send alerts. This technology fascinated me as I thought of the amount of people in my own personal life that this could help.

Simplifying their interface

IBM's SXSW event was followed a minimal, black-and-white color palette with natural textures to complement. The current Aging-in-Place UI would have felt out of place and antiquated with the modern aesthetic the SXSW team was trying to achieve. I volunteered to refresh the Aging in Place interface to match the theme of IBM’s exhibit, match the living room space that would be at the SXSW venue, and modify the sensors to respond to new accelerators/sensors specific to the venue.

Their demo UI allowed you to be able to drag "Granny" to interact with items in her "apartment".It was built using Tumult Hype for the design and animations. They then used Javascript to receive messages from their sensors and accelerators to trigger animations and timeline events. With just a few days turn-around, I redesigned the living room assets in Sketch and used Hype to trigger the animations. I didn’t change much for the Javascript, we continued using Websockets to retrieve the JSON. Once the JSON data was received and parsed, we used the messages retrieved to toggle the animations and timeline events.

Meet Grandpa

While we were replacing the ability to drag “Grandma” around a screen with live furniture sensors, we still wanted to show how this could be tied back to eldercare specifically. In the back of our exhibition space, we had set up a small demo area equipped with an Abuelito Pancho Doll. We attached an accelerator within him, an accelerator on a doll rocking chair, and a sensor inside a doll bed.

Attendees were able to then move the doll around and see a animated version of the doll live on a TV respond to his movements. If they laid the doll down, it would trigger him sleeping and you would see him start snoring on the screen. If he was put in the rocking chair, he would start whistling and the toggle would turn on for “rocking”. If they shook him, an error message would pop up saying that he was in distress. I illustrated Abuelito Pancho’s face in Sketch and exported his assets as SVGs. I used simple CSS animations and jQuery to trigger the events.


By our launch day for SXSW, we had created an engaging, clean interface that visitors could interact with while they explored the living room.

Afterwards, Susanne Kehoe, Global Research Leader on Strategic Initiative on Aging, wrote a thank you note:

“Thank you for volunteering your time to make our Research more easily conveyed to visitors. It was so much fun to see visitors interact with your front-end design. Very special thanks for accommodating the creation of one more front-end design at the last minute. It was effortless working with you. I truly appreciate how self-directed you operated. Also, I'm in awe of your skill too!!”

She also added a final note that Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, mentioned the great impression our activation left on her at the all-hands on-site later that launch day. It was a great feeling not only to have participated in an activation that left such an impact not only on myself or the visitors of SXSW, but also our CEO as well.

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