By Merav Breslow*
A global center for third age innovation
Beer-Sheva has a growing community of startups and offers many resources which they can take advantage of. A great example is the current host of Tech7 community, CDI-Negev, an innovation complex that addresses big challenges in a unique approach, part of which is allowing startups to use labs as sandboxes for their products. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Idan Papier, the director of innovation and new shiny things at CDI-Negev, for a talk about the most recent lab launched in the complex, the Healthy Aging Lab. The lab supports one of the most interesting areas of innovation in Beer-Sheva, startups focusing on the elderly, aiming to help them live a better life. With the increase in life expectancy, enhancing the quality of life of the elderly is important. As Ziv Ofek, the CEO of CDI, put it in a recent interview, the vision for Beer-Sheva is to become a global center for third age innovation.
The first thing I noticed when I met with Idan, was his passion for what he does. He began with “showing me a new world” through Virtual Reality 3D glasses. It was an unbelievable experience. I was able to see and “feel” a different world, visit remote exotic places, without leaving the room. Idan told me that this is exactly the same reaction they got when they took some of these VR glasses to an assisted living home for the elderly. The residents of the home were excited and moved by what they were able to see and experience wearing the glasses. Moreover, some who had not reacted to their surroundings in a while came to life when they put the glasses on. An amazing outcome, and exactly what the aim of the initiative was: better lives for the elderly.
The Healthy Aging Innovation Lab
Idan took me for a tour of the innovation lab. There is a rise in the number of people living past the age of eighty in relation to the general population and a growing number of centenarians and the lab was set up in order to prepare society for this change. The lab contains a “real life” home of an older person. As you walk into the living room, it looks and even smells just like an older person’s home; truly it felt as if I had walked into my grandparents’ home. In the same space there is a kitchen, a bathroom. Walking out of the “apartment”, you enter a doctor’s room, a family room and an area for social workers. They all represent different aspects of the older person’s life. The idea of having all these factors combined in one place is to allow different perspectives of the problems and challenges of living as an older person to be looked at. And to use a holistic view whilst finding (digital) solutions to enhance the needs of older people to live life at its best.
With the use of this lab, CDI, its partners and startups can create different scenarios encountered by the elderly, enabling them to see how their lifestyle can be improved. As Idan explains, one of the plans is to have an older person come to the lab and “live” there for a few hours so that they can check these scenarios. For example, a common problem is the feeling of loneliness among the elderly. One of the ideas to tackle the problem is using a robot to identify facial expressions and if the person is sad, the robot will know to pick up on that emotion and contact the relevant resource (e.g. the family, doctor, social worker or all of them at once). A more common scenario is ‘falling’- many older people lose their balance ending with a fall, the results of which can be terrible. The lab provides the space for suggesting solutions to avoid the fall altogether or find quick ways to report a fall as the faster they are treated the higher the chances of healing. In this lab the older people can help the developers bring positive changes to their quality of life
The lab deals with real people and real life problems, and is, therefore, of great interest to many Israeli institutions that deal with the elderly population. Hence the support and collaboration of the National Insurance Institute, Eshel-JDC, Amal group, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Welfare, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Beer-Sheva municipality and Sheba hospital. These institutions share with CDI-Negev the same vision and goal– to improve the quality of life of older people around the world.
* Merav Breslow is a student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev