Hong Kong technology expo to feature 3D food printer, mirror analysing emotions for elderly

Government said to be considering doling out subsidies as city greys

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2017, 9:21am

From a 3D food printer to a mirror that can analyse emotions, technology has been more widely adopted than before to address problems facing Hong Kong’s elderly population.

The uptick comes as the government holds the city’s first large-scale exhibition on how technology and innovation can help elderly people stay active while relieving the stress of caregivers. The exhibitions is to run from June 16 to 18.

Organised with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service as well as the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, the government hoped new technologies could help society embrace greying trends.

“As we have more elderly people, pressure on care homes will grow,” said Doris Ho Pui-ling, head of the policy and project coordination unit in the chief secretary’s private office. “If we make use of technology, our ability to take care of the elderly can improve ... Pressure on families can also be eased.”

If we make use of technology, our ability to take care of the elderly can improve
Doris Ho Pui-ling, chief secretary’s private office

Ho revealed the government was considering doling out funding so that such technologies would become more affordable for elderly persons.

Council chief executive Chua Ho-wai said the idea of holding the expo in Hong Kong arose after visiting an exhibition in Japan last October that showed various kinds of technological devices for the elderly and disabled persons.

“Publicity should be done to let more people know about this area and encourage researchers to dig further,” he said.

The Hong Kong showcase is to feature innovative ideas from local and overseas exhibitors addressing some problems commonly faced by elderly persons and their caregivers.

For those with chewing or swallowing problems, for example, 3D food printers could give them nourishment that is sufficiently soft yet appealing to eat.

Food with desirable shapes could be printed from a machine connected to tubes with different kinds of freshly puréed food – similar to ink in a typical printer.

For example, pumpkin purée and green tea paste would be used to print a “carrot” and the “leaves”.

The machine to be displayed at the expo takes 15 minutes to print just one item, and such a service has not yet been launched in Hong Kong.

But Jessica Tam Wing-sai, head of the council’s social enterprise business centre, said the expo offered a chance to share the concept with others, highlighting the possibility of a direction to explore in the future.

“Many elderly people don’t want to just get their stomach filled with porridge,” she said. “If they could have something that looked nicer, they’d feel happier.”

A similar 3D food printing project has already been launched in Europe to provide better food experiences for elderly persons there.

Local innovators have incorporated other digital solutions for daily matters, including a mirror-like product named Mirrorgotchi that could keep caregivers informed of the emotional and health status of the elderly persons they look after.

Specifically, the mirror can tell whether someone is happy, sad or angry based on facial recognition technology. One’s emotional status is then sent to a caregiver through a smartphone app. The user needs only to look at the mirror.

The product can also send health information to a phone app via a designated thermometer and blood pressure meter.

Hong Kong Communications sales director Lam Man-hau said the hope was to “strengthen communications between generations”.

“If an elderly person feels unwell or unhappy, our product could remind younger people by phone notification to check on them.”

While these advanced products could help caregivers, their price tags might not be affordable for everyone. A 3D food printer, for example, costs around HK$20,000, and the Mirrorgotchi is priced at between HK$3,000 and HK$4,000.

Grace Li Fai, chairwoman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, said the government should take the lead in educating and subsidising facilities to adopt the products.

“Many private care homes are unfamiliar with hi-tech products ... and are financially stretched under rents pressure,” she said.

Li added the government could consult with care homes and manufacturers as to which products were most suitable for them before offering such subsidies.

Grace Chan Man-yee, the council’s general manager in innovation and technology for ageing, agreed government should lead in subsiding care homes and elderly to use the products. She claimed Japan had gone further than Hong Kong in such care and allowed people to purchase designated technological products with long-term care insurance funding.

She said the council was considering working with some NGOs to launch services with specific products.