Video game makers target Japan’s silver generation

Updated 23 April 2014
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Video game makers target Japan’s silver generation

At a nursing home in suburban Tokyo, 88-year-old Saburo Sakamoto darts his fingers energetically to catch characters that appear on a touch screen in front of him.
Peals of laughter erupt from the other side of the room full of octogenarians as they wallop plastic alligators that appear from little holes or wield foam hammers to crush frogs as they pop up.
“The ladies here are very agile, so it’s almost impossible for me to beat them,” says Sakamoto as he catches his breath and watches several women easily outscore him on the game he is playing.
The nursing home is run by an offshoot of Namco Bandai, the company behind 1980s arcade phenomenon PacMan, whose pill-popping escapades helped bring video games to a mass youth market.
Now the firm is part of a small, but growing band of groups developing video games and home computer entertainment for the so-called “silver generation” — Japan’s burgeoning army of elderly people, who are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Japan’s population has been declining since 2007 and the country is greying, with one of the world’s lowest birth rates and highest life expectancies.
“We offer entertainment so that elderly people spend the whole day playing, having fun, and getting really exhausted before returning to their home,” said Yoshiaki Kawamura, President of Kaikaya Ltd., the wholly-owned unit of Namco Bandai Holdings.
Day visitors, whose average age is 85, have a choice of activities at this government approved center, including assisted bathing, physiotherapy, lunch and a series of arcade and video games.
“The video games are very much extra-curricular, voluntary activities... but clients look very animated when they are playing,” Kawamura said.
Facility staff try to motivate the elderly, tapping into their competitive spirits by posting leader boards on the walls and running competitions to see who is the “most vigorous” every few months.
Among the titles on offer is “Dokidoki Hebi Taiji II” (Thrilling Snakebuster II), a game developed by Namco Bandai in cooperation with Kyushu University Hospital in western Japan.
Like a lifesize version of Whack-a-Mole, a seated player stamps on cartoon-like snakes that pop up at random around him.
Developers say the motion strengthens legs and hip muscles, something doctors say is important to help prevent falls.
It also increases cerebral blood flows especially to the frontal lobe, which may help to slow the progress of cognitive impairment, says Kyushu University doctor Shinichiro Takasugi.
In practice, “it is hard to get scientific proof of a particular game’s positive effect because of factors from other exercises,” said Kaikaya’s musculoskeletal nurse Miyuki Takahashi.
“But the psychological effect is unarguable — people’s faces light up when they play it.”
Takasugi agrees that there are clearly mood-enhancing benefits to be had.
“The game is an effective tool to lighten up the souls of elderly people who tend to stay at home, withdrawing from social life,” he said.
“It can also help keep them engaged with what can be boring rehab exercises.”
Where video games have historically been sedentary and solitary, improving technology means controlling characters on a screen no longer needs to be done just by hitting keys or wobbling a joystick.
The same kit that allows young gamers to kick and punch their way through a beat-em-up is now being used to liven up monotonous rehabilitation.
Using the Kinect motion sensor — developed by Microsoft for its video game console Xbox — Physical therapist Keizo Sato worked with two companies to devise game software specifically to help boost strength and suppleness.
Rehact — a contraction of the English words “rehabilitation” and “active” — is intended to provide high-quality exercises for elderly people who might live in rural areas away from specialized medical facilities.
“The scarcity of people who can provide rehab training to elderly people in smaller cities and the cost of it are challenges for ageing Japan,” said Sato, who lectures at Tohoku Fukushi University.
There are four games to choose from, each aimed at specific muscle groups, said Sato.
“But this software not only offers motivation to help people enjoy the exercises, but demonstrates the correct way to do them without the need for a therapist to be present,” he said.
Osaka-based Medica Shuppan Publisher last year released a similar game machine co-developed by Kyushu University researchers, while the same researchers are developing another one in a three-year program funded by the government.
And Nintendo, the maker of the Donkey Kong and Super Mario franchises, said late January it aims to reboot its business by entering the health care industry with “non-wearable” products.
No details have been made available on what this means, but the Kyoto-based leading game console maker already offers fitness game software Wii Fit series.
“I think these so-called “exergames” will be a powerful tool for curbing snowballing medical costs in Japan,” said Sato.


US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

Updated 21 May 2019
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US eases restrictions on China’s Huawei to keep networks, phones operating

  • The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals
  • Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms
WASHINGTON: The US government on Monday temporarily eased some trade restrictions imposed last week on China’s Huawei, a move that sought to minimize disruption for the telecom company’s customers around the world.
The US Commerce Department will allow Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to purchase American-made goods in order to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets.
The company is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without license approvals that likely will be denied.
The US government said it imposed the restrictions because of Huawei’s involvement in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.
The new authorization is intended to give telecommunications operators that rely on Huawei equipment time to make other arrangements, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“In short, this license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks,” Ross added.
The license, which is in effect until Aug. 19, suggests changes to Huawei’s supply chain may have immediate, far-reaching and unintended consequences for its customers.
“The goal seems to be to prevent Internet, computer and cell phone systems from crashing,” said Washington lawyer Kevin Wolf, a former Commerce Department official. “This is not a capitulation. This is housekeeping.”
Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, declined to comment.
The Commerce Department said it will evaluate whether to extend the exemptions beyond 90 days.
On Thursday, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 68 entities to an export blacklist that makes it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States.
The government tied Huawei’s addition to the “entity list” to a pending case accusing the company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed US goods and services in Iran and move money out of the country via the international banking system. Huawei has pleaded not guilty.
Reuters reported Friday that the department was considering a temporary easing, citing a government spokeswoman.
The temporary license also allows disclosures of security vulnerabilities and for Huawei to engage in the development of standards for future 5G networks.
Reuters reported Sunday that Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new authorization.
Out of $70 billion Huawei spent buying components in 2018, some $11 billion went to US firms including Qualcomm Inc. , Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc.
“I think this is a reality check,” said Washington trade lawyer Douglas Jacobson. “It shows how pervasive Huawei goods and technology are around the globe and if the US imposes restrictions, that has impacts.”
Jacobson said the effort to keep existing networks operating appeared aimed at telecom providers in Europe and other countries where Huawei equipment is pervasive.
The move also could assist mobile service providers in thinly populated areas of the United States, such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon, that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
John Neuffer, the president of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents US chipmakers and designers, said in a statement that the association wants the government would ease the restrictions further.
“We hope to work with the administration to broaden the scope of the license,” he said, so that it advances US security goals but does not undermine the industry’s ability to compete globally and remain technology leaders.
A report on Monday on the potential impact of stringent export controls on technologies found that US firms could lose up to $56.3 billion in export sales over five years.
The report, from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said the missed opportunities threatened as many as 74,000 jobs.
Wolf, the former Commerce official, said the Huawei reprieve was similar to action taken by the department in July to prevent systems from crashing after the US banned China’s ZTE Corp, a smaller Huawei rival, from buying American-made components in April.
The US trade ban on ZTE wreaked havoc at wireless carriers in Europe and South Asia, sources told Reuters at the time.
The ban on ZTE was lifted July 13 after the company struck an agreement with the Commerce Department that included a $1 billion fine plus $400 million in escrow and replacement of its board of directors and senior management. ZTE, which had ceased major operations as a result of the ban, then resumed business.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Angela Moon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)