Boulder’s CarePenguin lets you keep tabs on elderly loved ones by tracking water usage

It all started when Marlo Vernon’s grandma didn’t pick up the phone.

The recent University of Colorado Boulder graduate’s grandmother had fallen a few months before, so when she wasn’t answering calls or texts, the family sent someone over. Turns out grandma was completely fine.

The family wanted a way to keep an eye on her, but didn’t want the invasiveness of video cameras or motion detectors. And Vernon knew her grandmother wouldn’t wear a Life Alert necklace nor would she want them to call every day.

That’s when CarePenguin was born — a Boulder-based company that provides a non-invasive way to keep tabs on older family members or loved ones by monitoring water usage.

“It’s a good way to catch falls faster without being creepy and putting cameras in their house or motion sensors in every room,” said Vernon, CarePenguin’s founder and chief executive officer.

The name CarePenguin comes from how penguins interact with each other. Vernon said that they are very familial birds, and as an added bonus, penguins also spend most of their lives in water.

Water is an indicator for human behavior, she said. Typically, everyone’s morning routine involves water — whether that’s running the faucet, taking a shower or refilling the dog’s water bowl.

CarePenguin tracks the water usage in a home using a sensor that attaches to the main hot water source. Most water usage uses some amount of warm water, Vernon said, and the sensor takes temperature readings every 15 seconds.

“Whenever anyone uses water in the house, the temperature of that pipe spikes way up, indicating that someone is up and active and going about their normal daily routine,” Vernon said.

CarePenguin does not have a consent form, but rather, expects families to have conversations with their loved ones about using the sensors.

“We plan on providing educational material on how to talk to your elderly loved ones about passive monitoring, but ultimately it’s up to the families to make that decision for themselves,” Vernon said.

Todd Vernon, Marlo’s father, business partner and chief technical officer, helped develop the software for both the sensor and the CarePenguin smartphone app, given his background in hardware and software engineering.

The app is linked to the sensor, so the user is able to track activity from anywhere.

The app also allows for push notifications. If there hasn’t been any activity, the app lets the user know that something may be wrong. The user can also set times for when they may think their loved ones will be active.

Monitoring water usage works not only because everyone uses it daily, but also because older adults’ behavior is very habitual, making it easier to predict activity times, Todd Vernon said.

Additionally, app users can add “caregivers.” These contacts could be other siblings who live closer to the family member’s household, so if something were to happen, they would be notified and be able to get to the residence quicker.

The sensor took a couple months to develop and design, with all product assembly happening out of their home in Boulder.

“We really put our shoulder into (CarePenguin) about when COVID hit because Marlo came home from college a little early before she graduated,” Todd Vernon said.

The sensor — which the Vernons are selling at — has a one-time fee of $40, accompanied by a monthly subscription of $8.99 or an annual subscription of $98. After the user receives the sensor, they must download the app to set up the product.

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