From Meals-on-Wheels to Dinner-by-Drone
Joseph F. Coughlin is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab (http://agelab.mit.edu). His research explores how demographic change, technology and consumer behavior drive innovations in business and society. Coughlin teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. He is author of the new book The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017).
Drones are all the buzz today. They make the news regularly appearing everywhere and often where they don't belong — baseball stadiums, concert stages and even the White House lawn. Is it time for firms that are the silent partners of family caregivers supporting older adults and aging services providers to jump on the drone bandwagon?
Drones are portrayed as providing new ways to conduct surveillance, deliver "stuff," or just to have fun. Amazon certainly captured the imagination with its “octocopter” research project where drones might deliver goods to your doorstep 30 minutes from the time of the order. Nearly all of the emerging drone applications are creative, but sometimes they are creepy. For example, a Maine farmer uses a drone to herd his sheep. Cool. While in Vancouver, a "peeping drone" was reported by residents of an apartment building. Creepy.
It is time for the public sector, volunteer organizations, and many companies that are the "go to" solution for families (e.g., pharmacy chains, grocery stores) to explore how these robotic technologies or autonomous systems could bring greater efficiency and service to caring for an aging society. According to Gallup, family caregivers spend nearly 13 days per month on tasks and errands such as grocery shopping, doing laundry, and running errands. It is unclear how much of that time is spent on shopping and delivery — what is clear is that a caregiver’s most valuable asset is their time.
Let’s dream a bit. Point-to-point, near-immediate service delivery offers a new, and perhaps more efficient, more environmentally friendly home-logistics system for the elderly and their caregivers.
Home delivery of goods today is thought of as a convenient and traffic-congestion-beating personal logistics strategy. With a rapidly aging population, however, convenience may soon become a secondary value compared to the desire for 24/7 reliable support of the homebound and of the families who help them.
In the near future, can we imagine groceries being drone-dropped not just to the time-crunched dual-income couple with children, but also to the doorstep of an older adult who is no longer comfortable or capable of driving to the local market. Will national pharmacy chains offer branded drone delivery of both OTC and prescription medications?
Human services might also consider the future of autonomous systems. Meals on Wheels is perhaps one of the most successful public programs supporting older homebound Americans. Born out of the Older Americans Act, the program uses volunteers to deliver a warm meal and a warm smile to nearly one-third of Americans over 60 years old. Despite the national need and the program’s success, funding from the federal government and other sources is at risk. Moreover, demand may be outstripping the number volunteers available. Countless communities across the nation are reporting “critical volunteer” shortages. In Dubuque, Iowa, they are reinstituting a gas stipend to incentivize volunteers to join. In Syracuse, New York, they are holding open houses hoping to recruit needed volunteers. In one northern California community, Meals on Wheels is described as “struggling to stay afloat” in the face of volunteer shortages. There are certainly many technical, social, and local challenges to make dinner-by-drone possible. However, where volunteers and funding are in short supply, it may be time to think of drones as more than a force multiplier for just the country’s military, but a powerful force multiplier for the nation’s care force as well.
Drones, or any autonomous system, will not, and should not, replace high-touch. Social connection and family support are as important to overall well-being as ensuring that food is in the fridge and medications are in the cabinet. For example, organizations such as Store to Door, which provides volunteer grocery shopping and delivery for older people, includes in its tagline that that it delivers far “more than groceries.” Human contact matters. However, drone delivery may offer a new way of managing the time, financial, and even congestion costs of selected caregiver tasks — e.g., grocery shopping, delivery of home medical supplies, meals, etc. Drones may even be an important strategy for public programs managing tight budgets and too few volunteers. The benefits could be more than cold economic savings, but the capacity to smartly allocate time once spent in traffic, to face-to-face, hand-in-hand time — sharing a meal, enjoying a chat, or going out to visit a friend. Imagine the irony, an autonomous system that enables quality human-to-human contact.
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Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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