This year the AALForum was held in Ghent, Belgium from September 22nd – 24th and Telecommunications, Software & Systems Group (TSSG) were in attendance. Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) is the use of ICT to enable independent living through the use of products and services to better the lives and functional capability of older adults, promoting a healthier lifestyle as well as supporting their carers, families and care organizations. In order to facilitate this, the AAL programme was set up to fund projects through a public-private partnership model in the field of ICT for active and healthy ageing and it is co-financed by the European Commission – under the Horizon 2020 umbrella, with the funding coming from the national funding bodies.
Each year the AAL Programme holds a forum (AALForum) which provides a platform for all involved in AAL projects to showcase their work to the community stakeholders. These stakeholders include policy makers, ICT developers, manufacturers, health professionals, commissioners, businesses, venture companies, technologists, academics, designers, carers and user groups of older adults. The main objectives for this forum are to exhibit and demonstrate existing or developing ICT solutions, promote networking within the community and provide an environment that provokes debate and discussion on various topics.
During the week, TSSG met with colleagues of an AAL project that they are partners in, INSPIRATION and also prospective future collaborators. The INSPIRATION project has been set up to inspire older adults, through a mobile application, to live a healthier active life by staying physically and mentally fit. INSPIRATION will provide daily health and activity tips to promote recurring movement and exercises. With access to similar project ideas and likeminded researchers the AAL Forum provides the perfect environment to foster collaboration and idea generation.
The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Aspirations in active ageing. Engaging people, services and technology’, and over the three-day event, there was an interesting and varied program of plenary sessions, informative sessions, round-table workshop events and project or product demonstrations, as well as a brainstorming/hackathon event based around the theme of how ICT or gaming can optimize elderly care.
Stephen Johnston (Co-founder Aging 2.0) gave the keynote for the conference and spoke about new emerging technologies in this area, comparing the progression of technologies for the ageing in the USA against Europe, and the differences in funding approaches taken. Some of the key messages to be taken from this session are around the fact that we are the aged of the future, and it is important that we see it like this and need to start investing in our own future.
In the context of the next call for proposals by the AAL Programme a session was held to discuss the opportunities and benefits related to the challenges from a large perspective, taking into account all stakeholders and focusing in on three specific challenges to investigate their potential as a viable challenge in the call, namely 1) Smart Environments (outside), 2) Dementia and 3) Integration of previous platforms or projects.
Dr. Eveline Wouters, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, hosted a session on Connecting and supporting dementia at home, which was an interactive session providing the forum for participants to share their experiences as well as demonstrating an interesting new relaxation technology for Dementia sufferers, which was then followed by Louise Richardson showcasing some emerging technologies in the AAL space, particularly geared towards Dementia sufferers. Eight projects, at different TRL stages were demonstrated, discussed and critiqued quite objectively, resulting in some valuable feedback for the project leaders.
Femke Ongenae of iMinds held a very engaging round-table brainstorming session on the use of Big Data in the AAL domain and the challenges we are facing, which included, ‘Data Structures’, ‘Privacy & Ethics’ and ‘Data Usage’, with each reviewed from the angle of the increasing amount of datasets being gathered in the Living Labs with regards to AAL services and how these datasets can be managed, used and disseminated to further research goals in the domain.
Julien Venne discussed new business models for business development and distribution networks for emerging AAL products, focusing on the barriers to market and how to overcome these. This was followed by the INSPIRATION project holding an interactive workshop on the creation of a meaningful user experience for the older user, which guided the participants through the process and experiences of co-creation workshops with the elderly, using INSPIRATION as the guide. The final workshop was about monitoring people in their private spaces giving a quick overview of a number of AAL research projects and the different approaches they have in monitoring.
Finally, the overarching message to be taken from the event is that Big Data and its usage has a large part to play in future progression of AAL technologies, and the points of interest or discussion in the Big Data domain cross over into AAL. If one common theme can be taken from all sessions that were attended it has to be the one of Privacy of data, and how this will be protected going forward.