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Surprising Science

Dad, Gradma Won’t Get Off My Nintendo Wii

In the upcoming Judd Apatow film Funny People, Adam Sandler, referring to his mother, says “I sent her an email and she tried to email me back on a toaster.” If that’s so hilarious, then why are seniors now reshaping the technology industrial complex?

It was the Nintendo Wii that launched the latest tech craze, as senior centers from Chicago to London began investing in Wii’s to keep their denizens active. With activities like Wii bowling, tennis, and baseball keeping seniors moving on their feet, residents older than many Galapagos tortoises became enthralled with the game.

Last year, a company called Clarity noticed a potential vacuum in the market and introduced the ClarityLife C900, a cell phone specifically designed for the elderly featuring no contacts, just four buttons and a big red switch for emergencies. A number of social networking websites targeting the elderly have also emerged, including Jive, a mouseless networking concept that uses a one-plug router to facilitate communication between friends and family.

Technology is even beginning to replace the caretaker. QuietCare, an innovation from home security company ADT, allows people to track seniors living alone through a series of sensors and text messages. Accenture Labs has developed a wired medicine cabinet that can identify seniors and instruct them on how to take their pills. It all adds up to a potential boom market–which is a rare thing in these recessionary times.

Recently MIT’s AgeLab launched the Age Gain Now Empathy System, or AGNES, a program to help engineers better understand the needs of seniors. And with one quarter of Japan’s population expected to be 65 or older by 2013, tech companies like Sharp and NTT DoCoMo are busy researching how their products can best serve the needs of the elderly. They’re not about to start beating you at Halo, but seniors won’t be the butt of Judd Apatow jokes much longer. Well, maybe.


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