Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gadgets for the golden years

Ergonomic designs help elderly and others ...

"In the 1960s, baby boomers, like most young people, could not wait to leave home.

Today, those boomers are trying to figure out how to stay at home, even if they are past the age when their parents made the passage to senior living. Companies that have long profited from the transformation of the counterculture into the over-the-counter culture are creating products that they hope will help them do that.

Here is what you have to look forward to as you enter your 60s and 70s: Deciphering conversations at cocktail parties becomes difficult; you cannot remember where you put your keys; and your grandchildren think you are a computer klutz.

Fortunately, technologies are appearing that can remedy some of these shortcomings, helping those in their 60s maintain their youthful self-images.

“The new market is old age,” said Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at MIT. “Baby boomers provide a perpetually youthful market.” They are, says Coughlin, himself a spry 47, “looking for technology to stay independent, engaged, well and vital.”

As most of them have finished rearing their children and paying for their education, they also have a lot of money, said Coughlin, and they are looking to spend it on technology.

The companies that are successfully marketing new technologies to older people are not those that have created high-tech ways for seniors to open jars. Rather, they are the ones that have learned to create products that span generations, providing style and utility to a range of age groups.

An obvious success story is Apple; its iPod line is easy to use and stylish, and its appeal crosses generations. Apple retail stores are clean, sleek and inviting. Older people enjoy entering them because “the Apple stores make you feel smart,” Coughlin said.

Similar trends are happening in the auto industry. In the 1990s, the inside joke at Ford was that the Lincoln Town Car appealed to people whose next car would be a hearse.

But those entering their golden years today are not looking for psychedelic-decorated walkers or plush mini-limos.

Automobile manufacturers have moved from creating cars for older people to creating cars that can cross generations.

Consumers with less-nimble fingers find the large knobs in Honda’s boxy Element easy to manipulate. But Honda did not design them for the arthritis stricken, but for young people who drive while wearing ski gloves, said a Honda spokesman, Chris Martin. The Element’s design, aimed at younger people, inadvertently attracted consumers across age groups.

An important future trend, said Eero Laansoo, a human-factors engineer for Ford, will be the personalized car, which gives drivers the ability to change instrument fonts and colors to make gauges and dials easier to read.

The rash of accident-avoidance technologies — like blind spot detection, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control (which slows your vehicle down if you get too close to another car) — cross age boundaries in their appeal. Teenage drivers can use them, and they can also give confidence to aging drivers with declining motor skills."    (Continued via Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Eric A. Taub)    [Ergonomics Resources]

SmartScan keyless home entry system. - Ergonomics

SmartScan keyless home entry system.

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