Startup offers elderly an Internet key to family ties
Two grandmothers mystified by tablet computers have inspired a French-Romanian startup to develop an application and service to help the elderly stay in touch with their relatives through the Internet.
The system— the work of a startup called Hubert — began operating in the United States and in Europe on crowdfunding website Indiegogo last month.
“Everything started after one of my grandmothers died in ahomefor dependent seniors in France,” says Stephane Lucon, a Frenchman who co-foundedHubert.
“I was living with my wife and children (around) 2,000 kilometers away from her, in Romania. I went to visit her whenever I could but I would have liked her to be able to see her grandchildren everyday via Skype or any video conference application.”
But likemany octogenarians or older people, his grandmother did not know how to use a tablet or a personal computer.
A Pew Research Center report published in April showed that senior citizens in the US are lagging behind the overall population in online usage.
Only 37 percent of those above 80 go online, compared with 86 percent of the overall US population who use the Internet. The picture is similar in Europe.
Around the world, populations are aging quickly. The number of people in their 80s will have almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2050 to 395 million, according to the UNWorldHealth Organization.
Many seniors understandably have difficulty with digital communication, having spent most of their lives before the Internet was created.
After the death of one of his grandmothers, Lucon was determined to help the other one benefit from video linkups. “I realized that many elderly people are intimidated by the big number of applications on the tablet screen,” he says.
From his house in the Romanian countryside, he worked for months on a newscreen launcher with the help of UK-based Romanian designer, Petre Nicolescu.
His 87-year-old grandmotherwasconsulted on every step and asked for her opinion.
“I wanted to build a new interface so that she could see only one or two buttons on her screen with the application she uses: Skype, games,” he says.
The result is a simplified screen on which all unused applications are hidden.
But as tablets can still puzzle new users, Lucon and his team created a support service that can remotely control the device to fix problems or install newapps.
“Retailers usually consider that the family is here to help the seniors with thedevice, but relatives often do not have the knowledge or the time to do it,” Lucon says. By pressing a help buttonontheir screen, users will be connected vocally to a real person for help.
The support line will be accessible for a basic monthly subscription of $20.
Last year, US retailer Amazon added a “Mayday” alarm button to its Kindle tablets for live technical support.
“A major difference with AmazonMayday is that our interface can be used on any Android tablet,” Lucon says.
Initiatives such as Mayday or Hubert “help as they give a human face which is more important for the older generation than the younger one who is comfortable Googling questions”, says CarolinaMilanesi, chief of Research of KANTAR Worldpanel Comtech Cell.
Hubert has chosen to base its research and development in France. The call center will be based in Romania, which has become a European hub for IT support.
“Helping seniors to connect is not only an economic issue, it’s first and foremost a social issue as technologies can help less mobile people to maintain social connections,” says Thomas Husson, an analyst at international IT survey group Forrester Research.