Japanese startups scene working towards seniors’ independence and dignity

By May 16, 2017
seniors and tech in Japan

Japan has the world’s oldest population and every year new solutions find their way to the market to help seniors keep under control chronic diseases linked to ageing and to live more safely and independently. Here’s some trends to follow.

According to the 2015 Japan’s national census, there are over 127 million inhabitants in the country, and 26.7% of the population are 65 years old and older (in 2016). It is the first ageing country in the world. And among them, only 1.69 million people live in nursing facilities, which means that more than 30 million seniors are still living at home or at their relatives’. To ensure they remain as much independent as they can be and as long as it is possible, Japanese companies has launched a lot of digital innovations for the last few years to help the elderly population. Many of them include robots, as Japanese remain one of the more advanced and open-minded users in terms of human-machine interactions, but there is also a lot going on in the fields of IoT, and more precisely in smart homes and wearables.

The obvious rise of the robots

Last year, MJI launched Tapia, an artificial intelligence robot to assist people in their everyday life. Far from the human-looking robot trend, Tapia  looks like a white eggshell with a screen for eyes. It gives its user some information about weather and gives advice on how he/she should dress accordingly, when connected to a ecommerce platform it can reorder a product, or even remind its user to call relative or friends. What may appear interesting for aging population - especially people suffering from Alzheimer's disease - is its ability to remind its user to do some tasks or to keep tab on its health.

Indeed according to its website, MJI offers a lot of features such as a safety monitoring : ‘When a loved one hasn’t responded, Tapia is there to show everything is OK. Tapia can also check the health of you or your loved ones by connecting to smart medical devices.’ Iot connection includes as well smart home devices allowing to remotely operate air conditioning, television, or room lights. But what appears as really interesting is its “conversational ability” which is particularly important to people with dementia that need to be intellectually stimulated.

We can find this kind of stimulation in the Kabo-Chan robot which focuses on talking with isolated Japanese seniors. It looks like a soft toy, talks, sings and moves, and it answers by touch and sound. It is programmed to respond to its owner in different ways and offers several exercise modes. Kabo-Chan also tell when it is time to get up, eat and sleep. The aim of this kind of small robot that looks more like a toy rather than a really robotic assistant is to improve seniors’ cognitive skills.

The not-so-obvious rise of iot that help compensate for memory loss

But robots aren’t the only ones that could be used as reminders in old people's everyday life. For instance, Japanese startup Dfree developed a wearable that helps people manage their incontinence problem. The IoT that looks like a button needs to be put on the user’s stomach, and it will analyze through ultrasound the user’s bladder or colon and entice them to go to the bathroom when needed with a notification to their smartphone. This kind of technology is a solution to people with memory loss but also to their caregivers, in nursing facilities or when they’re staying with their relatives.
If some technologies act as a reminder, some are trying to cover different fields in one in order to make seniors everyday life easier to manage. This is the case of Eny which is a smart button that help control household devices. Powered by energy harvesting technology, its user by pressing the button - that looks just like Amazon’s buttons - can turn on or off all devices inside his/her home. This connected button could help senior to control their electronic device when they need, limit energy consumption from devices that the senior forgot to turn or even prevent household accident such as fire or gas leak.

eny from \QUANTUM on Vimeo.

According to the 2015 National Census, only 1.69 million people live in nursing facilities, which means that more than 30 million seniors are still living at home or at their relatives’. More than the cost of nursing facilities, it’s a cultural thing to welcome older relatives inside one’s home. Knowing that these technologies are available is a way to ensure that this kind of cohabitation go smoothly for everyone.

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