"Harvey Bumpus doesn't like to eat alone. But his wife died more than a year ago and his family is scattered across the country. Most nights, he heats up a simple meal of oatmeal or hot dogs and eats alone.
"I don't have much choice," said the 82-year-old retired correctional officer who looks forward to Christmas as one of the few days each year when he gathers with his family.
But when the planes, trains and automobiles that brought everyone together take his family away - he, like millions of other elderly people, will be alone again.
Now, the technology consulting company Accenture is developing a system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together - virtually - as often as they'd like.
The concept is simple. An elderly woman in, say, California, makes herself dinner. When she gets ready to sit down and eat, the system detects it and alerts her son in Chicago. The son then goes to his kitchen, where a small camera and microphone capture what he is doing. Speakers and a screen - as big as a television or as small as a picture frame - allow him to hear and see his mother, who has a similar setup.
"We are trying to really bring back the kind of family interactions we used to take for granted," said Dadong Wan, a senior researcher in Accenture Ltd.
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