A small bird sits on top of an assistive walker, chirping and singing with movement. This bird is not actual wildlife, however, but instead an animatronic replica, stuffed and sewn to resemble a bluebird or a cardinal. This was the vision of 93-year-old Rita Melone for creating a positive relationship with her walker—a vision now brought to fruition by Ageless Innovations.
“After more than 90 years of walking without assistance, I would often forget to use my walker,” Melone said. “I thought to myself, ‘What could be better than having a cute little feathered friend to come along for the ride?’”
The concept was dubbed “Walker Squawkers,” and the birds are set for release next spring. Rita’s idea to make the experience of the walker more enjoyable struck a chord with the innovators at Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All.
“When this incredibly intelligent and spunky 93-year-old woman approached us with the idea of the Walker Squawker, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create a new product that would deliver smiles and joy to Rita and her peers,” said Co-Founder and CEO Ted Fischer.
A new demographic
Fischer started at toy giant Hasbro in the development department, where the team noticed animatronic toys originally developed for girls were also being gifted to older adults. To focus exclusively on the demographic, they developed Ageless Innovations and bought the Joy for All brand from Hasbro.
The company also offers lifelike animatronic cats and dogs with long brushable fur that bark, meow and purr in response to their owner’s voice, as well as move, yawn and stretch.
The products have found success, both with individuals and among state health departments and those focusing on the elderly. The New Yorker reports that states have distributed more than 20,000 animatronic pets to older adults around the country, primarily to address the epidemic of loneliness among older adults (and the detrimental effects that come with it). In fact, loneliness can lead to development of chronic diseases and other adverse health effects. First identified years ago, the epidemic has escalated to a crisis point during the pandemic with social isolation for older adults at an all-time high.
AI as company
In addition to providing seniors with “lively entertainment and enjoyable interactions,” the new birds will also play songs and make lifelike bird sounds for its users. A motion sensor can recognize movement to reward using a walker, and they also can respond to voices with the company’s trademarked ChirpBack Technology.
The Walker Squawker is the latest in a new rise of AI (artificial intelligence) and animatronic inventions to accompany seniors. ElliQ is a robot developed by Intuition Robots to converse and give reminders to older adults. Reminiscent of the Pixar lamp, it lights up when speaking. The product is still in early access but has already received widespread press.
The Walker Squawker has yet to hit the market but is expected to launch in April 2022.