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Friendly companion app

A “Papa Pal” visits a client. (Handout)


Friendly companion app

An app pairs college students with senior citizens

Older Americans who don’t need in-home care or assisted living may still need help with everyday needs such as transportation, shopping, and technology. Many just need companionship. A Miami-based startup called Papa is aiming to fill this gap by providing a service that connects senior citizens with college students, an approach it calls “grandkids-on-demand.”

“People don’t always want to say they want companionship, even though their families say they do,” Papa founder Andrew Parker told TechCrunch. “But when a visit ends up being six hours, that’s evident what it’s for.”

Parker started the company after trying to help his struggling grandmother care for his grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s. Traditional home care didn’t seem to fit his grandfather’s needs, so he looked for an alternative. Hiring a college student to help his grandfather was such a success that he built an app to extend the concept to others. He named the service “Papa” after his grandfather’s nickname.

The basic service is $20 per hour. If seniors pay an additional $30 monthly service fee, they can request a particular student, called a “Papa Pal.” All Papa Pal candidates must pass a background check and motor vehicle records check. The company also administers a personality test to ensure all Papa Pals are outgoing, empathetic, and patient.

Parker trains the students to help their clients increase their social interaction through what he calls “instructive companionship.”

“It’s like, teach your senior how to use social media today, get them their first 10 friends, or have them FaceTime with family members,” Parker told Fast Company.

The startup plans to expand from Florida to at least five other states next year. Medicare will introduce its expanded Medicare Advantage program in 2019 that will cover many of the services Papa offers, such as transportation to medical appointments.

Herding birds

Birds are an aviation hazard. A collision with a flock of birds can damage jet engines, potentially causing an aircraft to crash. The potential for a bird strike is greatest at airports, which offer large, open tracts of land that may tempt birds as a suitable roosting habitat.

Now, engineers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a software algorithm that can enable an ordinary commercial drone to herd a flock of birds away from the crowded airspace of an airport. The researchers formulated a mathematical model of how birds maintain formations and respond to threats along the edge of the flock.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters/Newscom

(Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters/Newscom)

They presented the algorithm in a paper published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics in August. The 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” in which US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of geese and was forced to land in the Hudson River near Manhattan, inspired the research.

“The passengers on Flight 1549 were only saved because the pilots were so skilled,” said Caltech aerospace associate professor Soon-Jo Chung, the principal investigator on the drone project, in a statement. “It made me think that next time might not have such a happy ending. So I started looking into ways to protect airspace from birds by leveraging my research areas in autonomy and robotics.”

The researchers successfully tested their algorithm on a flock of birds in Korea with a single drone capable of herding a flock of a dozen birds away from a designated airspace. Chung said the team plans to explore the use of multiple drones for multiple flocks. —M.C.


  • Laura W
    Posted: Tue, 10/02/2018 06:00 am

    The main problem with predator decoys and such is that over time the birds learn they don't pose any real threat and come back. I wonder if they'll eventually become acclimated to the drone as well, or if it will be lifelike enough to keep them on their toes.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Mon, 10/08/2018 10:34 am

    Wow, wouldn't it be nice if people could befriend and care for others without being paid $20 per hour for it?

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Mon, 10/08/2018 09:52 pm

    That is what the church should be doing as we have time. Unfortunately, we are sometimes so busy that a service like this may fill a void.