A lot of projects have worked to develop a one-off product - something to remind you to take your medicine or a reminder to turn off your stove. But what's needed are solutions that deliver a whole range of services, so you don't have to get a new system for each service you need - one platform with modular services that are very easy to add and adapt,' explains Theresa Skehan, a project manager at the Swedish Institute of Assistive Technology (SIAT). SIAT coordinated the 'Mainstreaming on ambient intelligence' ( Monami) project, which has developed an open, scalable software architecture and implemented a diverse array of interoperable applications designed specifically to meet the AAL needs of older people.
Need a sensor system to monitor someone's heart rate? Give the end user the sensor, install the application on their mobile phone, and the platform will handle the rest. Want to use data from that application to alert a doctor if the user's heart rate spikes? Add a second application, even from a different developer, to communicate the information and the two will work together seamlessly.
'Interoperability is the biggest challenge in the AAL market. We need open platforms on which different applications can be run and work together. And we need to turn the market from a vertical one into a horizontal one, open to different developers to create applications and for service providers and end users to choose the ones they want to use,' explains Antonio Kung, the co-founder and CTO of IT consulting company Trialog in France.
Mr. Kung is leading Monami's exploitation and commercialisation efforts. Supported by EUR 8.7 million from the European Commission, the Monami project involved 14 industrial, commercial and research and partners in seven European countries.
'There can be more than one platform for AAL - after all competition is a good thing -but they need to be open and scalable,' Mr. Kung says. 'In each case there needs to be somebody who sets the guidelines - just like Apple with its App Store or Google in the Android Market - so developers can create interoperable applications, which in turn will generate a mainstream ecosystem of real products.'
These products - AAL applications that can do anything from intelligently controlling heating in somebody's home to letting relatives and carers know where and how they are - could be created by individual developers following set standards, made available on the marketplace, bundled by AAL service providers and installed, with equipment like sensors and actuators, at a fraction of the cost of non-scalable solutions. Adding new applications to an open platform is relatively quick and easy, and, as with Apple and Android apps, more tech savvy users could even do it themselves.
An AAL iPhone?
In fact, as Kung points out, existing smart phone applications, stores and technologies, complement the development of an open market and platforms specifically for AAL.
'We need to be able to work with - not against - the technologies that are out there. When we started Monami things like the iPhone and iPad didn't even exist, but we should ensure our platform and applications can run on these devices because so many people have them - smart phones and similar devices are one of many existing enablers for AAL solutions,' Mr. Kung, the technical coordinator of Monami, says.
The market potential for open AAL platforms is huge and growing rapidly as a result of Europe's aging population. There are currently more than 20 million older dependent people in the 27 EU member states, a segment of the population set to rise to more than 44 million by 2060. Over the same period, the ratio of older dependent people compared to the working age population will likely increase from one in four to two in four, putting pressure on already overstretched healthcare and assisted living services unless technology is used to take the strain.
Some companies are commercialising AAL technologies, but these tend to be vertical proprietary solutions, and though they may meet the needs of some groups of dependent older people, they cannot meet the needs of all of them. Hence, the market is ripe for flexible, scalable and ultimately low-cost solutions that can be easily adapted to meet the specific needs of individual users.
The open platform developed and tested by the Monami team is now one of several leading technologies proposed as a solution to interoperability by the AAL Open Association ( AALOA), an alliance of more than 40 AAL-focused research projects set up to help create an open market for AAL technologies.
The situation was underscored by the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing ( EIP-AHA) in its recently published Strategic Implementation Plan. In the document, the EIP-AHA cites AALOA and calls for the promotion of a wide range of 'open and flexible solutions and tools for building independent living applications and services.' It also specifies the need for large-scale field trials of AAL solutions 'involving at least 10,000 users.'
Monami received research funding under the European Union's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).