Advanced tech 'gadgets' help improve life for vulnerable groups in society

Zhu Shenshen
Including "medical robots," firms are developing designs and interfaces so everyday digital devices can support an intelligent healthcare rehab system.
Zhu Shenshen
Advanced tech 'gadgets' help improve life for vulnerable groups in society
Ti Gong

"Medical robots" designed and manufactured by Shanghai-based Fourier Intelligence have been exported to over 30 countries and regions.

There is a Chinese proverb that says "It takes at least 100 days to recover from a broken bone." Well, that wasn't the case for Zhu Ruihua.

The elderly Shanghai resident broke her leg after a fall. Instead of being laid up for three months, she convalesced for just two weeks after surgery with the help of artificial intelligence robots.

"There are different modes on this machine that can help improve my leg movement. It is really useful," Zhu told CCTV news.

Her story is typical of how advanced technologies are making life better for the disabled, the elderly and those with serious health issues, all facilitated by the active participation of tech firms.

They are improving and upgrading accessibility and services for vulnerable groups, covering smart devices, smartphones, computers, smart homes and digital entertainment. And they are developing the designs and interfaces used in those gadgets.

The "medical robots" used by Zhu were designed and manufactured by Shanghai-based Fourier Intelligence, which has exported the robots to over 30 countries and regions.

Advanced tech 'gadgets' help improve life for vulnerable groups in society

Exoskeleton and rehabilitation robot developed by Fourier Intelligence

Leveraging intelligent robotics, smart actuators, sensors, machine-learning and proprietary control algorithms, the company developed an intelligent healthcare robotic platform, called RehabHub, that delivers tailored digital health care to revolutionize the rehabilitation industry.

"The rehabilitation market has significant tech adoption potential," said Fourier Intelligence Founder and CEO Alex Gu.

"China sees increasing demand for rehabilitation services with an aging population, an increased number of patients with chronic diseases, and rehab development in clinics," Gu said.

China's seventh national census conducted in 2020 shows the number of Chinese people on the mainland aged 60 or above has reached 264.02 million, accounting for 18.7 percent of the total population. It's 5.44 percentage points higher than the level in 2010 when the sixth census was conducted.

It's a challenge yet an opportunity to develop the "silver economy."

With positive market outlook, Fourier Intelligence received funding of 400 million yuan (US$59 million) in January, the investment led by Softbank and backed by Saudi Aramco and Yuanjing Capital.

Advanced tech 'gadgets' help improve life for vulnerable groups in society
Ti Gong

A Chinese version of the "Inclusive Design Manual" has been released to boost accessible technology.

Shanghai is establishing itself as an international digital hub in line with the city government's digital strategy.

The blueprint also includes developing digital tools specifically for elderly care, according to city officials.

Compared with hardware, more tech giants are caring about accessible design and interface when devices are initially developed. The market potential is in the millions of customers.

In May, Microsoft China, Xiaomi and Shanghai Youren Foundation, a non-profit organization aiding disabled groups, announced a partnership to promote the concept of inclusive design and accessible technology.

They jointly released a Chinese version of the "Inclusive Design Manual," fitting the design practices of Microsoft and Xiaomi with millions of users of systems, software, smartphones and smart devices.

The first phase of the collaboration will empower 1,000 developers to learn and implement the concept of accessible design.

The three parties will also provide digital skills training for people with disabilities to expand their employment opportunities.

"We hope to leverage the power of these two technology powerhouses and combine it with our own rich experiences to enhance the information accessibility skills of ICT industry practitioners, improve the digital skills literacy and employment competitiveness of people with disabilities, and help them better integrate into society," said Fu Gaoshan, Director of the Shanghai Youren Foundation.

"The concept of accessibility is no longer limited to the physical sense," said Ahmed Mazhari, President of Microsoft Asia.

"Digital skills are required across all aspects of life. In Asia, especially in China, the digital economy is booming and the demand for accessibility is even stronger."

The "Inclusive Design Manual " is the first such guide released in China. It seeks to encourage products that lower the barriers for all groups to participate in society.

Accessible features for special groups are already in Apple's iPhone, iPad and Mac products.

People with limb problems use an Apple watch with AssistiveTouch. iPads support third-party eye-tracking hardware for easier control. For the blind and low-vision communities, Apple's VoiceOver screen reader will use in-device intelligence to explore objects within images.

Apple China has also hired people with vision and hearing difficulties at Apple Stores in Shanghai and other cities nationwide. They offer training and services for disabled users and elderly people.

Some Apple China staff, including in its Beijing and Suzhou Apple Stores, have graduated from the Gallaudet University, the world's first private comprehensive university for the deaf and people with hearing difficulties.

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