Remember being 10 years old, heading to Disneyland, (I grew up in Southern California so that’s my frame of reference – plug in your own favorite amusement park), feeling your heart race as you waited in line to get on the Matterhorn? As you get into your 50’s its hard to replicate those shots of exuberance and guilt free adrenaline, one way to approach that exhilaration for technology consumers is to head to the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas.
The show is a cacophony of technology innovations, solutions and guesses as to the future. And its insanely huge! I’m sure a lot of readers are familiar with the larger senior living provider conferences like Leading Age, AHCA and ALFA – in a good year upwards of 8,000 people will attend those shows. Try this on for size, at CES there are over 153,000 attendees and 3100 exhibitors! The overall floor space takes over approximately the size of 37 football fields – yikes! The techno guru of our company, Michael Gardner, spent 4 days at the show and had a pedometer strapped on to count his steps, final answer for his effort was 98979 steps (49.5 miles).
The show touches everything. All kinds of insane new car designs (be alert for driverless cars!), innovations in audio and video technology, crazy robotics, new types of sensors for the home, virtual interactive gaming devices, preparing for the digital home of the future. And as you wander from booth to booth you meet everyone from the savvy sophisticated executives from world class conglomerates (Samsung, Sony, Phillips, Ford, etc) to the fledging entrepreneurs from remote places in China trying to change the world with their one idea. It’s a Kiplingesque integration of marketing sophistication side by side with the hucksters you meet at a state fair. The fact that its in Vegas only adds to the absurdity of the experience, whatever decadence you choose to partake in on the show floor is matched by the decadence of your choosing at 3 am on the Vegas strip!
My shtick is always leaning towards finding how this paradise of technology and innovation can meander its way into senior living, and aging in general. Part of the solutions are obvious, and the marketplace is catching up with the need. Integrating sensors into clothing to monitor vitals, smart homes of the future that learn an individual’s needs and send the appropriate signals wirelessly to other devices, integrating health and wellness into a person’s smart phone, etc, etc. It is exciting to see that common sense type of mindset beginning to work its way into the mainstream technology landscape. I always enjoy, however, finding nuggets of technology that 100% contribute to the quality of the older person’s (or disabled person’s) quality of life.
Two things I fell in love with, and we’ll integrate into our own product pending testing results, are inexpensive, engaging, life changing devices. The first is a baseball cap, yes, a baseball cap! What’s so special about it? You put the hat on, and a small, undetectable wireless speaker embedded in the hat rests alongside your skull. Just wear your hat, and the sound from your phone or PC is conducted directly into your inner ear through vibration. Our CIO, Lili Dwight, has not had hearing in one of her ears for almost ten years and she texted me from DIA last week (with her hat on) saying for the first time in the last decade she could listen to music stereophonically. And the guy hawking it was awesome – Mike Freeman, the product developer. (www.maxvirtual.com). He was wildly exuberant, hands flailing away left and right as he tried to revolutionize the world one ear at a time. The other device was a musical instrument called Beamz, it’s a 3 pronged instrument about the size of a 20” monitor where when you put your hands between the prongs of the device you break a laser beam that plays a specific musical instrument. A musical neophyte like me can be transformed into a concert pianist or a jazz guitarist depending on the background music you can seamlessly select. And it runs right off of your PC. What I love about it from our company’s perspective is that it is just as appropriate for a person far down the dementia path as it is for someone fiercely independent at 93, no skill necessary to apply!
I like to have my ideas verified by industry experts, so the week after CES I took both of these devices with me to the headquarters of Brookdale Senior Living in Tennessee. To my delight, they got it! Their associates enjoyed playing with the musical instrument, and fundamentally saw the benefit of the hat for the thousands of residents they serve with varying degrees of hearing loss. Their executives care about this stuff! You should hear one of the their executive VP’s (Todd Kaestner) talk in detail about ambient decibels and background noises and how that can impact a residents quality of life – I can’t keep up! It’s the perfect storm to find organizations that look at technology as something above and beyond medical records and pill dispensing.
Another thing I like about CES is the mindset of commercialization and the appropriate price points. Over the years I’ve attending dozens of conferences dealing with various types of adaptive technology and software / hardware solutions. The problem is the price points, it’s great to see technologies that can change people’s lives but if no one can afford them what’s the point. It’s a tough line to walk but the very definition of “consumer” electronics means you’re trying to reach the masses, that means the price points matter. The baseball cap, for example, will cost about $50 – $60 dollars. Think about that for next year’s Christmas gift for Grandpa!
So my recommendation for any of you technophiles, or even technophobes, is to get CES on your bucket list. It’s a no lose proposition. You’ll find things that benefit yourself, benefit the elders many of your serve, benefit people you love, whether it be your grandkids or your mother in law. And you can instantly become hip to your own kids. Next year I’m bringing my 20 year old son JP and my 18 year old son Nathan with me to the event, they’ll be able to explain to me all of the things I can’t figure out. The world is changing whether we like it or not, CES is a way to hop on the train and see which way the world is turning. All that’s required to attend is a few hundred dollars of cash and your imagination.