Blue Star Veteran’s Network for Senior Vets–48 Hours to Funding Deadline

Time’s running out to fund a good cause. The Blue Star Veteran’s Network (BSVN) has a little over 48 hours left on its Indiegogo campaign. They’re hoping to raise 72,500, but so far have barely raised over 22,000. This in a world where a guy got over 50k to make potato salad.

Founded by a retired Navy admiral, BSVN plans to use technology to provide aging-in-place services for seniors who are veterans or close family members of veterans.

According to their Indiegogo site: “The Blue Star Veterans Network integrates multiple technologies, including wearables, in a unique patent-pending service suite to help older veterans live safe and healthy in their own homes. We integrate hardware, software, processes, and a human monitoring/assistance team to help vets and their families live free and independent. Our signature product is The Blue Star Service Watch, which is just part of a larger set of available services.”

The watch is a handsome variant on the medical alert pendant, or as BSVN says, “Vets don’t like to wear those ‘old-people’ pendent buttons!”  Considering the military’s influence on fashion (think leather bomber jackets), we hope BSVN gets the funding it needs, since we can imagine many people would rather wear a vintage-looking working watch than a dorky-looking pendant. That said, those with arthritis may still prefer a pendant, providing it slips over the neck.

We salute BSVN and hope they achieve their goal. As Hunter, an 84-year-old Korean War vet quoted in their promotional video says, “I want to be independent to do whatever the hell I want.”



Europeans Advance Fall Detection

Medical alert systems (of infamous “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”) fame have another flaw besides tacky commercials. While they’re a well-proven advance over trying to reach for a phone,  they still depend on the fall victim being conscious enough to push a button.

In response, industry and academics are beginning to roll out sensor-based systems, such as the AutoAlert option for Philips’s Lifeline. As a traditional medical alert vendor is all too happy to point out, these solutions are expensive and not always reliable, even Philips admits to only 95% accuracy. Nevertheless, there’s a new contender in the space that may have the traditional systems re-thinking their sales strategy.

The EU-funded Vigi’Fall has just won the Gold Medal at the international inventor competition Concours Lépine for offering fall detection for anyone, even those so badly injured they can’t press a button. It’s more complicated than Philip’s product, because it requires wall-based sensors to detect movement. By contrast, the AutoAlert pendant itself monitors normal motion and acceleration, and so can detect an aberration, like the fast drop of a fall.

But Vigi’Fall offers one key advance: Instead of a pendant, which even Philips admits in the fine print, “can pose a strangulation risk,” Vigi’Fall is a patch that can be continuously worn, even in that fall trap, the shower. Vigi’Fall, which should also incorporate heart monitoring, is expected to be available for market at the end of 2014.

The Europeans have even managed to create an art film variant on “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”


3-D Printed Houses?

As interest in the possibilities of 3-D printing grows, UCLA architecture students have created a proof-of-concept 3-D printed house. It’s touted, as other 3-D projects have been, as a possible low-cost answer to housing shortages. Certainly, for budget-conscious seniors, it’s an intriguing possibility. Or is it?

UCLA’s prototype is a claustrophobic, 50-square foot structure that consists of two shell-like halves that close together to form a living space with everything from bed to bathroom. It was designed with young professionals in mind; the notion of wheelchair use seems not to have occurred to anyone.

It joins a short, but growing list of printed house projects, including one from cross-town rival USC. The USC approach proposes layering concrete to form houses. A FAQ on their site says that once the technology hits the market it should be possible to build a 2,400 square foot house in less than 24 hours. It also says, “We hope to see entry-level construction models on the market within one to two years.”

A Chinese firm claims to have already built ten houses using a similar process. While it looks convincing, we wonder about the ultimate quality and durability, given China’s notorious history of construction standards and code enforcement. A Dutch effort is currently building a house from a plant-based plastic.

The UCLA house, made in conjunction with 3-D printing pioneers Voxeljet, is a giant piece of sand casting, and thus a 21st century update of a manufacturing method that goes back at least as far as ancient Babylonia.

Given all of this, as much as we’d like to join in the general enthusiasm about what 3-D printing could mean for senior housing, for example, printable age-in-place bathrooms, in the end, we can’t help but be a little skeptical.

According to Voxeljet, the printing costs were “approximately EUR 60,000.” At today’s exchange rate, that’s over 81,000 dollars. Meanwhile, a quick Google search shows that currently you can buy a brand new, four-bedroom, two-bath manufactured home on sale for a little over 72k. (Although given some of the comments on the company’s YouTube page, you should thoroughly research such a purchase.)

Obviously, given economies of scale, future projects will surely be less than $1600 per square foot, but that’s a fairly daunting start-up cost.

The utopian dreams of 3-D printing enthusiasts are reminding us a little too much of Montreal’s poured concrete Habitat, design star of Canada’s Expo 67. It too was touted in its day as a cheap way to create comfortable, low-cost housing. Instead, it’s become a sought-after luxury property.

Academic Prototype:


Current state-of-the-art:


Lift Hero Wants You

San Francisco start-up Lift Hero is a variation on Uber and Lyft specifically targeted to serve seniors. We found a Craigslist ad spelling out what they’re looking for in drivers. Sounds well-intended, we just hope a criminal background check is part of the final vetting process:

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 9.39.20 PM

Please click to enlarge.


Answering a need without an Exoskeleton

While exoskeletons get the glamour headlines, a paraplegic engineer has quietly solved a more basic problem for those with spinal chord injuries (SCI): a quick and clean way to have a bowel movement. In fact, one famous survey of quadriplegics and paraplegics found that both groups ranked regaining walking movement below regaining bladder/bowel function.

SCI and other neurodegenerative conditions damage the nerves that control the proper functioning of the colon. As wheelchair users and their caretakers know all too well, the only remedy is a time-intensive combination of laxatives and finger stimulation. As an engineer, Erik Fugunt knew that was the very definition of a sub-optimal solution.

Fugunt, injured in a near fatal 2010 motorcycle accident, developed Paraflush, a bidet-like device to aid in bowel cleansing. It does not make life as easy as it once was, but according to the testimonials on his site, it is a great improvement over what those with SCI had been forced to accept.


Exoskeletons for Seniors

As we noted in a previous post, current exoskeletons are problematic because they require the use of crutches for balance. Their target customer appears to be a young-to-middle-aged person who lost lower limb function through an athletic or war-related injury.

imagesBy contrast, the European Union’s Ambient Assisted Living Program has funded research on exoskeletons specifically designed for seniors. Their criteria for successful development of “Exo-legs,” include:

  • Specialised “hands-free” locomotion support/assistance to allow elderly persons to perform their normal, wide-ranging daily activities in an independent manner.
  • Indoor mobility: moving freely within confined spaces giving considerable added value over wheelchairs, be able to perform stand-sit/sit-stand manoeuvres, climb/descend stairs, step over objects, quiet standing, straight walking, turning for centimetric/metric mobility
  • Outdoor mobility: walking/turning on uneven/unstructured surfaces/soft ground, avoiding traffic, crossing roads, taking public transport (buses, trains) to go to rural/distant places, opening/closing doors, using escalators for hectometric/kilometric mobility
  • Cognitive support: provide information/advice to allow decision making when the elderly person has become lost or confused

The project is due to conclude in 2015.



Telepresence is Priority

The Wall Street Journal asked Marc Agronin, noted geriatric psychiatrist and the author of How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old, what piece of technology he thought would be the biggest help to seniors.

His answer was telepresence, which is already implemented in hospitals and is being experimented with in homes. He rightly cautions that the technology must be adapted to those with “sensory deficits. Such adaptations should include voice activation, easily navigated menus, interactive operators, remote troubleshooting, simple keyboards, sophisticated volume controls and projection, and extra large high definition screens.”

Telepresence is a strange little buzzword. When it comes right down to it, we’re talking about a two-way video monitor mounted on a remote-controlled base, and many of the elements Agronin cites already exist. How hard would it be to download Skype onto a tablet, mount it on a toy car controllable over the Net, and create a reasonably useful telepresence bot for under a grand?

Electrical engineer Jon Bennett is half-way there. He’s long had a website that gives detailed instructions for how to build aR remote-controlled car. He agrees it would be possible to, “hack something inexpensive together,” but cautions,  “It wouldn’t get FDA approval and you wouldn’t be able to sell it to anyone.”


Way cheaper than a (real) one of these.

Foregoing the commercial medical market, if you have a background in EE or robotics, and would like to check on elderly relatives and their living conditions, it’s something to think about. As Agronin says, “An entire industry of telepresence volunteers and services could be created to serve the exploding population of aging individuals.” 








Aging in Distance

From the Chinese journal China Media Research comes a new term-of-art to consider: “Aging in Distance.” They’re contrasting “aging in place” with the experience of those who will be aging outside of their home countries, far from their native cultures and immediate families.


They are calling for papers to address the topic in a special issue of the journal to be published early next year. Deadline for abstract submission is July 25, 2014.

“We would welcome papers that enhance our understanding of how age and ageing is perceived in different cultures, what roles the mass media can play in constructing and perpetuating stereotypes about older people, how the formal model of community care can better link with the model of family care to form a culturally appropriate age-care model for immigrants in particular and the larger population in general. Topic areas include, but not limited to, stereotypes of older people; social media and older people; cultural assumptions of ageing and age-care; communication campaigns that enhance understanding between older and younger generations, mass media coverage of older people and audience effects, and cross-cultural adjustment of older migrants.”

Just for starters, we’d say teleprescence should certainly be a candidate topic.

Satellite photo of Earth, courtesy DMSP and NASA