Though living far away, Grandma wants to connect with the little ones but they are not very engaged and communicative at their young ages.
And her grandchildren need a family member to help practicing their speaking skills, reading and writing and expanding their learning through games.
This is where Panasonic’s HomeTeam video chat software comes in, said Todd Rytting, chief technology officer of Panasonic who held a briefing and demonstration of the product and the connection between healthy aging and technology at an annual conference of the American Society of Aging.
ASA is a California-based 5,000-member, multi-disciplinary organization addressing different aspects of aging.
Panasonic HomeTeam software stores hundreds of games and books so grandparent and grandchild can play and read together.
“Grandparents [want to] connect with grandchildren,” said Andrea Schneider, public relations contact with Motorola Mobility Public Relations on behalf of Panasonic’s Health and Wellness Solutions department, which develops technology for the healthcare market. “[When you are only] 5 years old, it’s hard to get going.
“The service allows grandparents to browse through books. [Their children have their] favorite animals or characters.
“[The grandchildren and grandparents] flip through pages of books. [The] grandchildren [are] learning how to read. [They are] practicing reading books.”
Panasonic’s HomeTeam staff of executives, managers and software developers released and explained their product, an online service that uses an app for the tablet, laptop and computer to access interactive books and games with video calling.
The user can download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play and can use Androids or OS ipads.
The program enables “tech-savvy” grandchildren to read and play and grandparents to coach or guide them from a long distance, empowering the children to learn and their grandparents to form lasting relationships with them.
“It’s about an experience,” Schneider said. “It started with Skype. [Grandparents ask their grandchildren], ‘What did you do? Something? Nothing?’ You create stories and jokes. [It] brings families in [the] spirit.”
The service is accessible for free for 30 days and then a premium subscription takes effect afterward either at $8.99 monthly or at $89.99 yearly.
“One only needs to subscribe,” she said. “You see who we try to call. [You] enter someone’s e-mail address. [You] read books and games. [There is] conference e-mailing. [You] see and hear each other talk.”
Panasonic has worked with publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing company and Disney and game developers to obtain and store 2,500-plus popular children’s books and games on the website, including Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar products.
“[In terms of books, I] recently read all favorites,” Schneider said. “[There are] animal adventures [for] different ages [such as]Curious George. You click on the book. It will bring it up. [It] brings up context.”
Books and games include math flash cards, Word Aventures for vocabulary, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Martha Speaks: Leader of the Pack and Just Grace, Checkers, Tic-Tac-Toe, Go Fish to Word Play, Chess and Animal Math.
“Each game has a tutorial,” Schneider said. “[The tutorials] show [the child] how to play. [They have] a match. A child has to know [what games he or she wants to play such as] Tic Tac Toe.
“There is a video conference. [They] read a nighttime story. You get to experience it together. You heart the book.”
Jerry Kurtze, director of new business development and innovation of Panasonic. explained that the service helps grandparents and grandchildren find interesting subjects to discuss since children under aged 10 tend to answer questions with monosyllabic replies, cannot deepen the substance of their topics and don’t speak long enough to build ties with family members.
“[Our target market is for children aged] 3 to 10,” Kurtze said. “When they get above 10, [it is hard to connect them with their grandparents]. It’s hard to get the children at ages 11, 12, 13.”
Add to this geographical, cultural and generational differences and a child’s grasp of e-mail, Skype and text messaging within nuclear families and both parties have serious challenges to overcome, she added. HomeTeam is aimed at providing grandparents and grandchildren common ground, lasting conversations and enjoyment.
“[There is no more closeness with the] nuclear family,” Schneider said. “[There is] long distance.”
HomeTeam software presents a book selected by either the grandparent or grandchild and both start to read. When one person turns the page electronically on his or her computer screen, the page is also turned in the other’s system as well. The same applies for moves during a Chess or Checkers game.
The book or game is the centerpiece of both parties’ attention but a video chat box appears on the side so they can see and speak with each other. E-mail and invitations functions are also featured to enable family members to contact and choose one another for discussion.
“[If grandparents and grandchildren want to] play games, [you go to the home screen and click] ‘go to all,’” Schneider said. “You see games available. [There are plenty of] games that [involve] younger children and young grandparents.
“There is a camera on the side. You can hear the decrease or increase [in volume]. You can hear yourself talking. All the tablets come with microphones and cameras. This is the home screen. I [can] see what’s online.
“There is a closed network. I [can choose to only have them if I] want my family members. My loved ones accept invites. “
Kurtze said that Panasonic’s HomeTeam was the result of two years of research, collaboration with company executives, managers and software developers and outreach to the healthcare market.
“We did not know what to do,” he said. “The number one [priority] is socializing with the family. We [were] led to this discussion [and] we tested sharing Web, technology and support. We found the big thing, [which was] games, books and reading.”
The more the development team learned about the public’s wants and needs, the more they were able to form partnerships with other companies and acquire text and game material, Kurtze said.
“We get a variety [of books] like Curious George,” he said. [These were for] simple reading. [These are] base-level books.”
Schneider said the team will continue research in order to offer more titles. “One of the developers [is involved in] testing,” she said. “We do criticize [the programs to improve them] and work [with] grandparents and children.”
Panasonic’s Health and Wellness Solutions department plans to add more instructional material overtime, Kurtze added.
“We will have informational books [in the future],” he said. “[These books will] teach about animals, science or [other subjects]. There’s a new medium.
“We will learn what people want. [We will] continue to add. [Then we will] adjust [our offerings accordingly].”