North America

Boomeroomba, part 2

In a previous article, on the topic of playing tennis, I talked about the Boomer-Roomba test. An idea passes the Boomer-Roomba test if it is something that might be impacted by Baby Boomers reaching their 60s and 70s and by the introduction of everyday robots.

Downhill skiing, sadly, does not pass the test: many Baby Boomers will stop skiing in the near future. But what about less dangerous snow activities: snow shoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, skating, etc. etc.? These many Baby Boomers will still be able to do for a long time, with friends or with their kids and grandkids. Indeed many Boomers may soon have much more time for activities such as these, as they cut back on or retire from their jobs.

The management of snow and ice is also a task that robots (or at least, remote controlled machines) could be uniquely suited to handle. Clearing snow off roads, for example, is challenging mainly because it is both time-sensitive (you generally want it done as soon as possible, even if that means working overnight) and time-intensive (it takes a long time to clear heavy snow). Clearing snow off rooftops is even more difficult. For rural snowbelt areas that get walloped far more than even the snowiest cities like Syracuse, being able to plow and de-ice roads robotically could be a godsend. Advanced safety features in cars and busses, and advanced cruise control in cars, could also help these areas.

Creating and maintaining skating rinks — whether by clearing snow off a frozen lake, or by creating an artificial rink — is also highly labour-intensive work that could benefit from automation. And people really enjoy long-distance outdoor skating rinks, and skating on lakes. Skating also puts much less strain on the body than, for example, jogging does.

But perhaps the main reason that snowbelt areas might do well in the Boomer-Roomba test is a relative one: they might do better than northern cities in general. As Baby Boomers age, and as robots do more and more work in the economy in general, more people (whether a retired Boomer or an e-commuting Millennial) might move south, as snowbirds during the winter or (as many have already done) as year-round Sunbelt residents.

The reverse is also true, however: more people might move north in the summer, as reverse-snowbirds. Snowbelts could be well-placed, therefore, to become year-round attractions: serving reverse-snowbirds in the summer, and winter sports lovers in the winter. In contrast, non-snowbelt northern areas might see a boom in summer, and yet still see a continuation of the current trend of growing much more slowly than Sunbelt areas in general.



Everyone for Tennis?

These days, one way to sniff out a potential idea is to see if it passes the Boomer-Roomba test: if it is something that will benefit from Baby Boomers becoming senior citizens, and from the growing use of robots, you might be on to something.

One such idea, I suspect, is tennis — and also, perhaps, tennis’s more octagenarian-friendly sibling sports like badminton, pickleball, and ping pong.

Of course, tennis is already beloved around the globe, and played by young and old alike. But, the number of people playing it on a regular basis has typically been limited by at least one of the following factors:

— people participated in other sports/fitness activities instead

— people were busy with jobs or chores or raising children

— people had no tennis court easily accessible (or at least, not one that was not in use most of the time)
This last factor is particularly true for people in poorer countries; that is to say, for most people in the world. Tennis is a finnicky sport, compared to other sports like basketball, football, running, or even baseball, cricket, or road hockey. You can, for example, play basketball on a sloped driveway in front of your house, or on the road in front of your house. You can play football (soccer) in your backyard, or in a park, or in a parking lot with a surface that has been made uneven by years of being driven on. Tennis, in contrast, requires a far more level surface, and a much larger surface. Even, for example, when compared to playing full-court basketball, a tennis court can require about five times more floor space per player (if you are playing singles tennis):

Tennis courts’ size also makes tennis difficult to play indoors (indoor tennis bubble buildings notwithstanding), when compared to sports like basketball or, even more, when compared to indoor fitness gyms. (Tennis courts are even difficult to provide shade for, in comparison to, for instance, playing 3-on-3 basketball). This puts sports like tennis at a disadvantage, particularly in areas where weather gets hot, cold, or rainy—again, areas in which most people in the world live.

Anyway, back to the Boomeroomba test:

Boomers — tennis (and badminton, pickleball, etc, etc.) is more seniors-friendly than most other sports. Many Boomers (including Chinese Boomers, who are a decade or two younger than those in the West) still participate in sports like downhill skiing, long-distance cycling, or pickup basketball, but may stop or at least cut down on these sports as they age in years ahead.

Robots — robots may impact tennis in a number of ways. First, as robots are often meant as   time-saving devices, and potentially as job-stealing devices, they may leave much more time for people to do things like play tennis. Second, robots may free up large amounts of commercial land, whether outdoors in parking lots or ndoors in malls or warehouses, as a result of technologies like autonomous vertical warehousing, autonomous delivery to consumers of goods bought online, or autonomous vehicles in general reducing the need for huge parking lots and making it easier for people to travel longer distances. Third, roomba-like robots can be ball boys.


Small Tennis Court in Aventura Mall

So, tennis passes the test. Of course, so too might other sports — swimming, for example, or golf, or cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing, might also become common as a result of aging Boomers and of robots freeing up time and land. Moreso than tennis, however, those may be limited by their expense in many places.