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In Tech Marketplace, Seniors Are Carving Out A Sizable Niche Of Their Own


The marketplace for technology specifically aimed at older people is growing, and Laurie Orlov makes a point of keeping tabs on it. She runs a consulting business called Aging in Place Technology Watch. And Orlov says that by 2020 it will amount to some $20 billion a year. And she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

LAURIE ORLOV: Thanks a lot.

SIEGEL: And first of all, what are you measuring here - twenty billion dollars a year spent on what?

ORLOV: Well, I've divided the market into four categories of technology - communication and engagement technologies, home safety and security technologies, health and wellness, and learning and contribution technologies. And I overlay that with the category of technologies for family and professional caregivers. And when you assemble all of that together, that is how I projected it to be a $20 billion market by 2020.

SIEGEL: But you're talking about higher tech than at-home elevators or motorized wheelchairs or bathtubs that you can sit down in and the like.

ORLOV: Oh, yes. I'm talking about internet-enabled technologies, camera-based technologies, wearables, personal emergency response technologies which have historically included the pendant you wear around your neck - you know, what's euphemistically called I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up buttons. But they have become fairly sophisticated in recent years and allowed for quite a bit more functionality than just that.

SIEGEL: You were at the Consumer Electronics Show this month keeping an eye out for technologies for older folks. Newest offerings - what did you see?

ORLOV: Well, I saw some interesting things. I saw yet another tablet for older adults called the grandPad. The grandPad has been intentionally locked down to restrict the number of capabilities it offers to a very limited and secure set.

SIEGEL: You know, I read your description of some of the most interesting technologies you saw at the Consumer Electronics Show, and a couple of them involve robots. How is that?

ORLOV: Well, there are robots emerging in this market space and I think - not yet, but at some point they're going to get to an appropriate consumer price point that we will be able to buy them. One of them is being piloted in hotels to bring - instead of having a person show up at your door with whatever it is you need, this robot shows up. I don't really see why that couldn't also work, for example, in an assisted living or independent living community.

SIEGEL: But do you think it's possible that by the time the youngest of the baby boomers are deep in their 80s that you could have at-home robots to help you age in place?

ORLOV: Oh, I totally think it's possible, and I think they could be voice activated, and I think they could remember our preferences. And so I believe there will be the same level of disruption or disconnection between the boomers who are - you know, become 85 at some point. There will be a disruption in terms of the technology that's introduced and comfort level.

SIEGEL: There's something to look forward to right there.

ORLOV: Oh, there you go. (Laughter).

SIEGEL: That's Laurie Orlov who writes a business consulting blog called Aging in Place Technology Watch. Laura, thank you.

ORLOV: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.