by Michael Pieper, Margherita Antona and Ulises Cortés

Over the last 50 years, the number of older persons worldwide has tripled - and will more than triple again over the next 50-year period as the annual growth of the older population (1.9%) is significantly higher than that of the total population (1.02%). The European Commission has predicted that between 1995 and 2025 the UK alone will see a 44% rise in people over 60, while in the United States the baby-boomer generation which consists of about 76 million people and is the largest group ever in the U.S., is heading towards retirement. This situation asks for new solutions towards improving the independence, the quality of life, and the active ageing of older citizens.

Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) comprises interoperable concepts, products and services, that combine new information and communication technologies (ICT) and social environments with the aim to improve and increase the quality of life for people in all stages of the life cycle. AAL can at best be understood as age-based assistance systems for a healthy and independent life that cater for the different abilities of their users. It also outlines that AAL is primarily concerned with the individual in his or her immediate environment by offering user-friendly interfaces for all sorts of equipment in the home and outside, taking into account that many older people have impairments in vision, hearing, mobility or dexterity. Thus it implies not only challenges but also opportunities for the citizens, the social and healthcare systems as well as industry and the European market.

The roots of AAL are in traditional Assistive Technologies for people with disabilities, Design for All approaches to accessibility, usability and ultimately acceptability of interactive technologies, as well as in the emerging computing paradigm of Ambient Intelligence, which offers new possibility of providing intelligent, unobtrusive and ubiquitous forms of assistance to older people and to citizens in general.

The aim of this Special Theme of ERCIM News is to spread information about the breadth and depth of activities in the AAL domain in Europe. Many projects in this area are funded by the AAL Joint National Programme, which covers market-oriented R&D on concrete ICT-based solutions for ageing-well with a time to market of 2-3 years, with a particular focus on involvement of SMEs and the business potential. This complements activities in the ICT theme of the FP7 Programme that focus on integrating emerging ICT concepts with a 5-10 years time to market, as well as essential research requiring large scale projects at EU level. Finally, a variety of initiatives are carried out at national level in various EU Member States.

The articles in this Special Theme address a variety of important topics.

Home Based Empowered Living addresses the improvement of the quality of life and health of the older population in the home environment, through the development of intelligent technologies which can easily support everyday activities, home management and self-care management, thus increasing the chances of a part of the population to live independently for a longer time in their own homes. Toward this end, the proposed approaches address platforms for software smart embedded services in immersive environments, agent-based societies of ambient-aware assistive tools, ambient assisted social networks, and intelligent home management, including older-friendly user interfaces and smart furniture for self-and health-care.

Home Care Monitoring Systems are intelligent technologies capable of “following” older home inhabitants in their daily activities, and thus prevents health and security risks or alert family members or healthcare providers when specific situations occur. Current efforts in this context address fall detection and prevention, detection of helplessness, as well as computational vision techniques for lifelogging.

The area of Online Ageing investigates the role of the web in the context of AAL and of improving the quality of life for the older population through social interaction, including a Social TV community platform for elderly people, augmented by game technologies and smart furniture, a virtual coach to prevent and overcome loneliness in the aging population, and a framework for designing personalized, adaptive and ubiquitous services and applications.

Another important area is Guidance and Awareness Services for Independent Living, concerning mobility, route planning, orientation and intelligent guidance in indoor and outdoor environments, and especially public buildings such as hospitals, museums, office buildings and shopping malls, as well as pedestrian and public transport.

In the context of AAL for Rehabilitation, a natural interaction system is proposed which provides a novel solution for neurocognitive rehabilitation for people with neglect syndrome.

Among enabling technologies for AAL, solutions in the area of ontologies for smart assistive solutions address activity modelling and recognition, whereas in the areas of Home Care Robotics and Automation, an adaptive robotic ecology is proposed consisting of mobile robotic devices, sensors, effectors and appliances.

Finally, important horizontal issues for the deployment of those technologies are Interoperability, Standards and Benchmarking for AAL. Article in this area discuss current efforts towards the development of standards and open platforms for AAL, as well as towards the reliable evaluation and comparison of AAL systems.

This wide range of activities confirms the very high and still increasing interest in the AAL field in Europe, both at a research and at an industrial level. The results reported in the selected articles demonstrate that AAL is rapidly maturing in terms of enabling technologies, technological frameworks and practical systems. At the same time, they confirm that the next fundamental step towards AAL technologies to be adopted in practice is addressing in a systematic way of interaction in AAL environments and providing accessibility, usability and user-friendliness by design.

Please contact:
Michael Pieper, Fraunhofer FIT, Germany
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Margherita Antona, ICS-FORTH, Greece
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Ulises Cortés, UPC, Barcelona, Spain
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Next issue: October 2024
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