Elderly care robots, meal delivery and health products rental create niche markets
At a nursing home in New Zealand, a Korean-made robot offers a blueprint for the future of old age.
The silver-colored, kiosk-shaped robot monitors residents’ vital signs and biorhythm in real time, provides brain training to prevent dementia and manages their medication schedules.
Named Silver Robot, the machine is developed by Yujin Robot, a Seoul-based startup, to look after an increasing number of the elderly living alone and provide health care services.
“The product represents a future service robot,” said Park Soon-jae, the company’s marketing chief.
“It not only helps those with trouble walking, but also checks up their physical condition and offers entertainment.”
A caregiver helps a resident use Yujin Robot’s Silver Robot at a nursing home in New Zealand. (Yujin Robot)
Two years after it ventured into the technology, the company began a clinical demonstration at nursing homes and silver towns in the country in 2009 with Auckland UniServices Ltd., a research and development firm owned by the University of Auckland.
Yujin is one of the groundbreakers in the budding industry targeting baby boomers ― those who were born between 1955 and 1963. Their novel, unconventional but remarkable ideas, coupled with the country’s rapidly aging population, are creating niche markets, experts said.
“Companies should take a distinct approach to penetrate the new market, which reflects the age group’s value, life stage and lifestyle,” Jung Ji-hye, a researcher at LG Economic Research Institute, said in a report.
“They need innovative items that can ennoble their image, and a distribution scheme that’s different from large discount outlets or department stores.”
These days, pioneers launched businesses such as for lunch-box delivery, medical and health equipment rental, senior fashion and travel planning.
Yegadeun is the country’s sole company specialized in delivering meals to elderly customers.
Binggrae, a local confectionary group, teamed up with X-Vinn, Japan’s largest senior food delivery firm, in 2009 to localize the business.
Customers can order online and by phone on a weekly or monthly basis to receive their food when they want.
Professional dietitians plan the menu every day to provide good nutrition, the company said. A 6,000-won meal box contains about 520 calories.
“We can also check out how they are when catering food,” said Kim Ki-hyun, head of Binggrae’s public relations team.
“The market has huge potential for that reason. The Japanese market is expanding at double-digit rates every year.”
In Korea, the growing number of elderly citizens living alone is increasing the need for more attention to their livelihood and nursing care.
According to Statistics Korea, more than 1.04 million seniors aged 65 or older live on their own, up nearly 6 percent from a year earlier. They now make up more than 10 percent of the population.
Another rising field is rental websites for senior care products ranging from wheelchairs and walking assist devices to electric beds and mobile toilets.
Started off as a nursing care service provider and caregiver training institution, Irena branched out into the rental business in 2009. The company is also registered as a social enterprise under the Ministry of Employment and Labor.
The company said it plans to become a nationwide franchise operator by establishing a retail network, developing consumer-tailored items and working with government agencies for a legal framework.
“The industry is emerging along the lines of the aging society but the Korean market is not catching up fast enough and still lacks infrastructure and related regulations,” a company official said.
According to the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the “silver” industry is projected to grow at an annual rate of 13 percent between 2010 and 2020.
The market, which stood at 6.4 trillion won in 2002, expanded to 31 trillion won last year and will rise to $116 trillion won, the Seoul Development Institute said.
Despite the recent spike, the local market is brittle compared with those in other aging countries.
In Japan, the segment is bursting into bloom as the economy several years ago began recognizing elderly citizens as future key customers.
Many companies including Magokoro Bento focus on people in their 70s or older, while hiring them to better understand customers’ needs.
“The business has significance not only in its target customer base but also its role in social responsibility,” an industry official said.
“Both the owners of the companies and the workers would feel they are somehow rendering services to society while receiving tax breaks. That’s perhaps the direction Korea would take in the coming years.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)