Grandma's next cane might rival the high tech gadgetry of your smartphone (and her robot will be way cooler).
Fujitsu demoed its Next Generation Cane at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona earlier this week. The smart cane monitors health vitals and has integrated GPS and sensors, so it will immediately know when and where someone falls. 3G or Wi-Fi wireless connectivity will alert paramedics during medical events like an irregular heartbeat.
It's also designed to help seniors get out and go places. The cane's handle has an LCD display that can give simple walking directions; a built-in vibration system will alert the user when he or she is headed in the wrong direction. The cane can send e-mails to concerned relatives or caretakers if it determines that an incident has occurred such as a fall or other emergency.
See here for CNET's Rich Trenholm'scoverage and video of the smart cane from the MWC floor.
Fujitsu designed the smart cane to help address Japan's aging population - a nascent challenge that is emerging in the United States as the baby boomer generation transitions toward retirement. Some startups are creating assistive care technology in anticipation, and that includes robot companions for seniors.
Tandy Trower, one of the original Microsoft employees, left the company to found a robotics startup called Hoaloha Robotics when Microsoft passed up on the opportunity. Hoaloha is developing robots that are socially interactive to help meet the challenges of aging amid a shrinking supply of human resources.
Other solutions are focusing on coordinating care.
CareZone, a startup co-founded by former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, is applying social networking to the social need of caring for an aging population. Think of it as a Facebook for caregivers and other loved ones who have special needs.
The notion that seniors are technology laggards will fade, as they become users of extremely advanced smart devices and the center of your family's social mesh (granted my grandfather eschews his conventional cane).