November 8, 2018

VERnetzX: Voice-operated Social Network

VERnetzX is a voice-operated AAL system for the older generation based on Amazon Alexa.

VERnetzX is a voice-operated Ambient Assisted Living system for the older generation based on Amazon Alexa which should serve as a social network. It was developed by Jonas Pfrang, Karina Renten, Markus Förste and me in the Practical Seminar in Digital Experience as a collaboration between Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design.

The name is a combination of the German words for connection (Verbindung), network (Netwerk) and X as a symbol connecting different generations and points.

Initial Situation

  • Demographic change
  • Restricted mental and/or physical activity of elderly people
  • High cost and difficult handling of currently available AAL systems
  • Little acceptance of technological devices, which try to improve social life, by elderly people
  • Diverse usage habits of communication media between different generations (e.g. WhatsApp vs. telephone)
  • Danger of social isolation

Concept of VERnetzX

The concept of VERnetzX is a voice-operated social network for the older generation. VERnetzX runs on the speech recognition system “Amazon Alexa” because of its affordability and its simple voice operation. VERnetzX aims to prevent the social isolation of the elderly as well as to overcome the differences of past and present communication channels (telephone vs. WhatsApp). In line with the UN sustainable development goal of Good Health and Well-Being, VERnetzX works towards looking after the mental health of ALL generations. VERnetzX will offer the functionalities mentioned below.


The “Chat” function helps older people to connect over and beyond the network. On the one hand, users can connect with other participants within the network for just chatting about diverse topics. On the other hand, the function will allow them to communicate with the younger generation via social messaging systems such as WhatsApp or Telegram and this takes away the need for the older generation to become acquainted with using smartphones or tablets.

Virtual Activities

This function allows for the formation of groups based on either location of residence or interest. Each group will then decide on the details of the virtual activities they want to organise, such as the date and limit on number of participants. Alternatively, a user can announce a virtual activity and the user’s friends can be invited. Following such activities, it is offered to add the participants to one’s own friend list.

Exchange of Cooking Recipes

Users can share their favourite recipes or just tips on how to prepare a certain dish. Every user can search for any recipe and access it. This expands the choice of virtual activities available and users can either discuss the recipes or encourage each other to virtually cook together.

Prototype of the Chat Function

VERnetzX is a voice-operated AAL system for the older generation based on Amazon Alexa.

We implemented a working prototype: Grandma Hilda wants to know how her grandson in Australia is doing. The grandma would tell VERnetzX the information she wants to transmit. Next, VERnetzX would translate the speech into text and send it to a social messaging system that her grandson uses such as Telegram. The grandson would then type a reply in Telegram and the text answer will be translated automatically to speech and read to the grandma. The answer could be read multiple times if the grandma did not understand everything. At the end, greetings could be transmitted to the grandson. If VERnetzX is asked for a reply when the grandson has not yet replied, VERnetzX will send a reminder to the grandson.

This current prototype has only implemented the “Chat” function; the “Virtual Activities” and “Exchange of Cooking Recipes” functions have not been implemented yet.

The project was awarded the DX Award by the Digital Experience Network and the Institute of Information Systems and Marketing, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Message me if you have any further questions or want to have a video of the prototype.

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