Old Age, New Tech

As the silver tsunami hits shores across the globe, robots and other assistive technologies are being deployed to meet the needs of the elderly.

AsianScientist (Aug. 15, 2018) – by Kareyst Lin – By 2050, for the first time in history, there will be more elderly individuals alive than children under 16, according to the 2015 World Population Ageing Report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

With the silver generation poised to make up a significant portion of society, the global market for senior care and assistive devices is burgeoning, and technology companies have begun to take notice.

We feature here ten robots, gizmos and gadgets that are empowering the elderly and helping them age in place.

  1. Smart walking sticks
  2. Even the most basic of equipment for the elderly could use an update, with the walking stick as a prime example. Instead of just being a wooden cane, smart walking sticks like the Next Generation Cane developed by Fujitsu now come equipped with GPS to help the elderly find their way around.

    Additionally, built-in gyroscopes can help notify family members should the user experience a fall. Some smart walking sticks even include heart-rate sensors and can be programmed to automatically call emergency services should abnormal cardiac activity be detected.

    Although intended to be used primarily for physical support, smart walking sticks can also include a built-in radio to keep seniors connected and entertained.

  3. Smart mirrors
  4. Besides finding out how you look, imagine also being able to find out how you feel when you look at your reflection in the mirror. Thanks to HKC, a technology company based in Hong Kong, a new smart mirror whimsically named MirrorGotchi can now make use of facial recognition technology to tell whether someone is happy, sad or angry.

    If the elderly person appears to be feeling unwell or unhappy, the MirrorGotchi can be programmed to send a text alert to remind family members to check in on them. Should a personal visit be unfeasible, loved ones can still keep in touch via a video call.

    The MirrorGotchi can also communicate with other healthcare devices such as Bluetooth-enabled thermometers or blood pressure monitors, making it possible to monitor both emotional and physical wellbeing in tandem.

  5. Companion robots
  6. The elderly who live alone or who do not have close family ties often experience isolation or depression. Companion robots are a way to help elderly people stay mentally and emotionally engaged.

    Palro, a 39-centimeter-tall robot made by Japanese IT company Fujisoft, is a conversational humanoid that tries its best to gain the user’s trust in ‘human’ ways. Its conversational skills are designed to mimic that of a human being. For example, Palro mimics the approximately 0.4-second pause between speakers during a normal conversation, and even incorporates actions and gestures when it is talking.

    Moreover, Palro can entertain the elderly by dancing, or by playing games such as word-chain puzzles and quizzes. It would appear that even boredom and loneliness can be beaten with the help of a tiny robotic friend.

  7. GPS-enabled insoles
  8. Senior citizens suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are prone to wandering around and are at risk of becoming disoriented or lost. GPS-enabled insoles have been invented by US-headquartered GTX Corp to help family members and caregivers keep tabs on the whereabouts of the elderly.

    The smart insoles fit easily into most adult shoes and feel no different from regular insoles, removing the need for carrying a separate device, and allowing for unobtrusive tracking of the wearer.

    For caregivers, a mobile app that can be installed on any smartphone, tablet or web browser allows them to allocate a ‘safe zone’ for their elderly wards. Should the wearer of the smart insoles stray beyond the designated boundaries, a text or email notification will appear on the app.

  9. Exoskeletons
  10. Loss of muscle mass and strength is a condition that occurs with age. Many elderly individuals experience weakness in their limbs, and in particular their legs, which makes walking difficult and risky.

    To enhance mobility in the elderly, researchers from Japan’s Tsukuba University and robotics company Cyberdyne have invented the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)—an exoskeleton that not only provides support for lower-limb movement, but also reinforces the signaling between the brain and the legs.

    When the wearer thinks, “I want to walk,” the brain transmits impulses to the relevant muscles. These faint ‘bio-electric’ signals can be picked up by the HAL through detectors placed on the wearer’s skin. The HAL recognizes these signals and relays them to the leg braces, thereby assisting the desired motion.

    Over a longer term, the HAL remembers the signals that produced movement and provides feedback to the brain, essentially training the brain to constantly and reliably emit those signals. With sufficient use, human and machine may eventually act as a single unit, moving intuitively together.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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