Some people take pleasure in an epic struggle to configure a new wireless device. Others, not so much. For them, it would be great if the electronics they need could, please, just sort themselves out to work straight out of the box. An EU-funded project has found a way to achieve this level of user-friendliness for assisted living technologies.
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The CareStore project focused on deployment and interoperability issues that are impeding the uptake of assisted living technologies. A wide variety of devices and smart systems are available to support senior citizens in various ways, for example to measure blood pressure, detect falls or track activity levels, says project coordinator Stefan Wagner of Aarhus Universitys Department of Engineering, Denmark.
The question we set out to address is how you can actually get them into peoples homes, he explains. In response, the consortium developed a system that combines three main components: a box that acts as a hub for the assisted living technologies in a persons home, a touch screen that commands this box, and an online platform similar to an app store that supports the addition of new devices.
Beyond plug and pray
All an authorised user needs to do to get a new device working is to show it to the box, Wagner explains. This component will identify it using an in-built recognition system, download the required apps from the store and handle the configuration.
To date, about 4 000 of these hubs have been installed in private and nursing homes. In fact, there may be more, says Wagner. Its an open source system based on software that is freely available for any interested party to adopt and adapt, he explains, and he assumes that other teams using these resources could easily build the required hardware and develop systems of their own.
Why cant we all just get along
Todays assisted living devices are usually smart systems that require infrastructure to work, Wagner explains. Typically, he notes, this infrastructure is specific to the manufacturer, which means that it is usually simpler for users to stick with products from just one company if they want to set up additional devices. And even within the same technical environment, some degree of configuration is likely to be needed.
For users and caregivers without much interest in technology, this aspect can be off-putting, limiting their willingness to engage with the technology. And the fact that they are tied into such silo-based technologies has other drawbacks, says Wagner. It complicates the exchange of the data collected by the devices, he notes, and it also means that smaller businesses with a limited product range may struggle to enter the market.
Interoperability was thus one of the key challenges CareStore had to tackle. Our system is designed to enable many different types of devices from many different makers to be easily deployed in a home, Wagner explains.
It is very much like an extended app store, but it is an open source solution that entities like a nursing home, a city council or an entire country can use to set up their own version of CareStore, he explains. Vendors register their devices and the software needed to run them, and when these devices are detected in a home, everything happens automatically in terms of the configuration and installation of the apps.
This seamless deployment is partly underpinned by existing standards. We do have standards of interoperability in health care, says Wagner. But it turns out that they are just not good enough. It is easy to get basic things working, but there are all sorts of different ways of how to actually to get devices paired and deployed. So we have to do a lot of plumbing behind the scenes. The current system has support for hundreds of devices, he notes, but it does not claim to cover every single one on the market.
For the CareStore system to take really off, it would have to be implemented by a large organisation or territorial entity, says Wagner. But he reports that it has already made its mark. As an open source system, it is being picked up, adapted and used by other teams as part of a wider drive to promote interoperability and open innovation, Wagner notes, and the underlying concept could produce benefits well beyond its current application in assisted living.