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Smart devices enrich lives of elderly in China

(People's Daily Online)    09:40, February 14, 2020

Thanks to such smart devices as virtual smart voice assistant apps and smart robots, senior citizens in China are able to enjoy more vibrant lives and feel better about themselves.


“Xiao Ai, turn on the TV.” “Xiao Ai, turn on the table lamp.” As Li Lianxi, a 70-year-old man sips tea after giving these commands to Xiao Ai, his virtual smart voice assistant, Xiao Ai, has finished all the work it was told to do.

Xiao Ai is actually a smart voice assistant app developed by China’s smartphone maker Xiaomi. People can connect it to all their smart electrical appliances and equipment, and control these appliances and equipment via the app, which is usually able to carry out as many commands as one could imagine.

When one gets old, his spiritual needs are mostly about receiving responses, said Li, adding that senior citizens would feel good when they know someone is always listening to what they say, and that Xiao Ai is a loyal listener of his.

“Sometimes when I tell Xiao Ai I’m bored, it would say ‘let me play a song for you.’ And it also talks with me, which makes me feel less lonely,” disclosed Li, who said Xiao Ai has not only brought more convenience to his life but made his home more lively.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, by the end of 2019, China had 253.9 million people who were aged 60 and above. Such a huge senior population means various needs in old-age care.

Today, what the majority of senior citizens worry about is not a material deficiency. Still, the lack of companionship, noted Yang Bo, executive deputy director and secretary-general of Chinese Women’s Health Network.

In fact, China has witnessed quite a lot of explorations pertaining to meeting the growing demand for care of senior citizens with new technologies.

In 2018, UBTECH Robotics, a global AI and humanoid robotics company headquartered in Shenzhen in south China’s Guangdong province, the Elderly Talent Information Center of China National Committee on Ageing, and Technology and Development Center for TCM of China have together established an intelligent healthcare service robot research institute.

The institute has developed Xiao Bao (a baby that makes you laugh), an intelligent robot that provides healthcare services for senior citizens. Xiao Bao looks like an expressive eight-year-old boy with an adorable voice and movements that can charm older folks. It often makes seniors laugh heartily by simply stretching itself.

With built-in dance programs, Xiao Bao can perform various kinds of dances, including square dancing.

In order to solve issues of family companionship, many smart robots have been equipped with functions that allow users to watch movies and make video calls with the robots.

In the future, robots that can chat with users will not only simply stream songs for senior citizens, but also know why the user wants to listen to the song, said Yang Xuecheng, deputy dean of School of Economics and Management, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

By acquiring information about users’ habits and emotional needs, robots in the future can help senior citizens communicate with their family regularly, explained Yang Xuecheng, adding that such technologies are now available, and will be introduced in the field of old-age care in the near future.

Besides keeping people company, smart robots have also been used to help seniors learn knowledge and skills.

A 60-year-old woman surnamed Feng used to feel regretful about not having been to a middle school, and her only one wish after retirement was to study. In the past, Feng studied by herself with books and pens, while now she learns with the help of Wu Kong, a smart robot that her family bought for her.

“Wu Kong, come and learn with me.” “Wu Kong, how to say Pingguo (apple) in English?” “Wu Kong, how long is the equator of the earth?” “Wu Kong, what do you get if you multiply 35 by 78?” Such questions are frequent in interactions between Feng and the robot.

Since she got Wu Kong, Feng has been busy studying various subjects, including Chinese, math, English, geography, and history. She has also got a bunch of like-minded friends because of her enthusiasm for learning, and now she studies together with more than 20 neighbors in her community.

“After two years of study, now I know even more poems than my granddaughter does,” said Feng, who has also enjoyed all kinds of entertainment activities including, listening to storytelling programs, singing and dancing, thanks to Wu Kong.

Learning knowledge is helpful for older people, which helps them enjoy the pleasure of study and growing old in grace, pointed out Yang Bo.

“Technological products should highlight humanistic care and target the spiritual needs of senior citizens. Since we don’t have many technical difficulties now, the products for smart services in old-age care in the future will help more elderly people enjoy the later portion of their lives with great spiritual wealth and a happier heart,” stressed Yang Xuecheng.   

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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