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Smart home tech makes inroads into China’s emerging elderly care market

Entrepreneurs start to offer home-based smart tech for elderly

China has a quarter of a billion people aged 60 or over, and by 2050, that number is set to climb to almost half a billion, or 35 per cent of the population, according to government estimates. Photograph: iStock

China has a quarter of a billion people aged 60 or over, and by 2050, that number is set to climb to almost half a billion, or 35 per cent of the population, according to government estimates. Photograph: iStock

 

Charging elderly clients just 1 yuan or about 12 cents a day, little-known Lanchuang Network Technology has embarked on one of the most ambitious undertakings in aged care by a private sector firm in China.

Provided with a set-up box, a webcam paired with a TV set and “Xiaoyi”, a Siri-like voice assistant, customers gain access to telemedicine and an SOS system as well as services that include housekeeping and meal deliveries. A small robot that can phone a medical centre in response to verbal calls for help costs an extra 2 yuan per day.

Launched just four months ago, Lanchuang’s smart care system has already signed up 220,000 elderly clients in 16 cities, half of which are in Shandong, a rapidly ageing province in eastern China, where the company is based. It is targeting as many as 1.5 million users this year, 12 million next year and 30 million in 2021, when it hopes to list on China’s new Nasdaq-style tech board.

The aim, however, is not to make money from its clients, some of whom get by on pensions as low as a few hundred yuan a month, but to take a cut from providers of offline services. “China’s market for elderly care is huge, but services in the industry are fragmented,” chief executive Li Libo said in an interview at his company’s headquarters in Weifang city.

“Scattered on the ground are pearls,” Li said of the products and services available, adding it was his company’s aim to string them together. Lanchuang, which is also working with China Mobile on a smartphone for seniors, is an example of growing, albeit still nascent, attempts by entrepreneurs to provide comprehensive smart homecare services for China’s vast number of elderly.

China has a quarter of a billion people aged 60 or over, and by 2050, that number is set to climb to almost half a billion, or 35 per cent of the population, according to government estimates.

Care of ageing parents

Care of ageing parents has traditionally fallen on the shoulders of children, but in modern China, where the one-child policy was abolished only in 2016, the son or daughter has to look after as many as four ageing people, including in-laws. Often, children have moved to cities far away for work. Retirement and nursing homes are on the rise, but are too pricey for most families and largely perceived as ridden with abuse. Three-quarters of old people prefer to live out their days at home, official surveys show.

The central government provided almost 22 million yuan (€2.69 million) in subsidies for Lanchuang’s smart platform and the Shandong provincial government has given three million yuan. That level of encouragement is a far cry from a decade ago, when entrepreneurs consistently met with local resistance.

Smart Tech has sold several hundred sets of sensors in Beijing so far this year under three-year contracts with community organisations. The company also helps train grassroots emergency response crews as part of the deal. Households pay nothing. “If an elderly person dies and the body is only discovered after three days, this creates negative publicity for the local government, publicity that it wants to avoid,” said a spokesperson.

Entrepreneurs in other greying economies such as the United States, Britain and South Korea have similarly seized on opportunities in the sector, touting technologies from voice recognition for home appliances to robot companions for lonely old people. Reuters.