AI robot helps support shielding households during pandemic

Yokeru headshots

Two brothers who founded a company to develop assistive technology to support digitally excluded individuals, after their grandmother fell over and was left for eight hours unaided, is looking for growth.

Monty and Hector Alexander, from Inkberrow in Worcester, launched Yokeru last year. Their AI call centre business proactively calls households, assesses vulnerability, and monitors the wellbeing to ensure vulnerable households are adequately supported.

Yokeru, has now joined the Birmingham-based Serendip Incubator. The incubator operates in partnership with the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN).

Serendip Incubator supports digital start-ups similar to Yokeru, providing access to technology markets and the vital knowledge and expertise that small businesses need to launch.

Yokeru uses technology to identify hundreds of shielding households in need of local authority support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since May this year, the AI automated call centre has been helping local authorities identify hundreds of households that need further local authority during these unprecedented times.

Digital exclusion is a national challenge.

While the digitisation of public services, such as health and welfare, improves access for many, those who are most vulnerable are often left behind.

99% of those in their 20s and 30s have internet-enabled smartphones, and online services are convenient. Newly-established platforms like Babylon Health now allow people to reach their doctor immediately, and from anywhere, over app-hosted video calls.

For older and more vulnerable cohorts, however, digitisation can perversely mean further exclusion. In the UK, only 40% of those over 65 use an internet-connected smartphone (leaving 7.08 million people without). Across all age groups, 8% (4.3 million people) have zero basic digital skills, and a further 12% (6.4 million adults) only to have limited digital abilities.

The automated platform works by calling the home or mobile phone line. This use of existing communication infrastructure is a reliable, and less invasive, way of contacting the digitally excluded and at a fraction of the cost of a call centre.

To date, Yokeru has made regular contact with 9,000 shielding residents in the West London borough. Of the 9,000 residents contacted, the platform identified 927 households with ‘unmet needs’ such as mental health, struggles to get food or medication, loneliness, and safeguarding concerns.

While the work has begun in London, the brothers are planning to roll out the work across the West Midlands region.

Hector & Monty grew up in Inkberrow, in Worcestershire, and now spend their time between Inkberrow and Shepherds Bush in London. With no formal office space, the company are looking to make the most of the facilities that Serendip has to offer, as well as the WMAHSN networks and links to industry as they expand into the West Midlands.

Hector said: “We are very excited to begin working as part of the Serendip incubator. The WMAHSN’s approach to supporting digital innovations with the potential to save lives and improve health outcomes resonated with us at Yokeru, so we applied to the Serendip programme.

“We are from near Worcester, so the opportunity could not have been timelier – especially as our technology could have a tremendous, positive impact in the region. We developed the platform in response to a specific, widespread and unreported problem of digital exclusion, an issue that is particularly severe in the West Midlands.

“Research demonstrates that one in five people in Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent hadn’t been online in the past three months or had never used the internet – twice the national average (ONS). WMAHSNs generous support will help us to develop and deploy the technology throughout the region (and further afield) ensuring that public services can support these digitally excluded individuals.”