Award Winners Take on Aging Society Challenges
Working under the motto “Science for a better life,” Bayer AG has been at the cutting edge of pharmaceutical and life science research and development for its entire history. Over its more than a century and a half in business, the German-based multinational has introduced some of the world’s most vital medications and life science products, including aspirin, antibiotics, and solutions for seed and crop protection.
But part of Bayer’s success is recognizing that it doesn’t necessarily have all of the answers. “Bayer is 154 years old and so we’ve developed a lot of expertise, but we don’t claim that we know everything,” says Celina Chew, Senior Representative of Bayer Group Greater China. “Lots of people have great ideas and are closer to the problems than we are, so we want to work with them and see how they would solve a problem. We get people involved in crafting solutions.”
To stimulate such involvement, especially among youth, Bayer has established a number of programs and competitions that tap into the innovative energy of young people. The most recent such effort was the first-ever Bayer Taiwan Innovation Award, which aims to spur innovation in three major fields vital to both Taiwan and Bayer: Human Health, particularly as it relates to aging; Companion Animals; and Agriculture. The competition was aimed at university students in Taiwan and attracted over 87 entrants
As Taiwan is rapidly becoming an aged society, with over 14% of the population 65 years or older as of 2018, Taiwan’s social welfare and healthcare networks are coming under increasing pressure. Chew says that she was impressed that young people embraced the challenge of finding solutions to the problems of the elderly, demonstrating not only their creativity but also their commitment to helping society. Many of these creative young people were inspired by the challenges they saw their own family members experience.
Chew was likewise impressed by the passion and awareness that young people brought to the concepts of Agriculture 4.0. “In agriculture there’s a lot of waste and inefficiency, so when I see that young people understand this and want to make changes for the better, that’s really encouraging,” she says.
Although all the entrants exhibited creativity and innovative problem solving, the judges found that some stood out in terms of both social relevance and practical potential. For example, the winning idea, “Fresh Farm,” is aimed at helping Taiwan’s aging fish farmers maintain their aquaculture operations, an important component of Taiwan’s food supply. The fish farms face an array of challenges ranging from an aging workforce to labor shortages, volatile prices, and inconsistent water quality. Consequently many are being abandoned.
Fresh Farm is an O2O game interface that allows players – that is, consumers – to rent aquafarms, manage aquaculture businesses, and in the end get the chance to own and trade actual fishery products. Bringing together aquafarm owners, breeders, IT service providers, equipment providers, and consumers, Fresh Farm enables them to appreciate their shared interests, and allows consumers to better understand the fisheries industry.
Entrants also brought new ideas that married the concept of companion animals to the need to provide better care for isolated seniors. Recognizing that most home monitoring systems are reactive and can be inadequate in situations of real life emergencies, Pet Alert actively brings in the home pet as a new element for aiding seniors.
The system integrates home webcams with wearable technologies and smartphones to monitor the elderly person’s physical status. The system is sensitive to the dog’s barking, which triggers the webcam to switch on, making it possible for rescue personnel to identify and respond to emergencies.
One of the winner deals with a very serious condition that impacts the health and quality of life for senior citizens: dysphagia, or swallowing disorder. If dysphagia is left untreated, patients are at risk of pulmonary aspiration and sleep apnea, as well as malnutrition and unhealthy weight loss due to the disincentive to eat.
Existing treatments for dysphagia are complicated and bulky. Swallow2 is a wearable device that can detect dysphagia and deliver small electrical impulses to the swallowing muscles of the throat via tiny electrodes attached to the skin. These electrical impulses help dilate the throat and make swallowing easier.
“We at Bayer are delighted that the competition was such a success,” says Freda Lin, Managing Director of Bayer Taiwan. “It not only demonstrated the creativity among Taiwan’s young people but also resulted in some very useful solutions to real problems.”
Bayer’s core mission centers on protecting human health, promoting life extension, and helping humankind prevent potential crises due to overpopulation and food scarcity. Innovative concepts are urgently needed to resolve those problems. “We hope the Bayer Taiwan Innovation Award contest will serve as a training ground for young talent, providing a way to contribute to society,” says Lin.