The population in modern societies is aging rapidly. Experts predict surging demand for technologies and services that help older people stay healthy and lead active, independent lives. A new open software architecture developed by EU-funded researchers promises to facilitate implementation
According to forecasts by experts, in 2030, a quarter of Europe’s population will be over 65. New technologies and methods have been playing a major role in extending life expectancy; now, technology promises to help people overcome many of the challenges associated with old age, from the need for regular health status monitoring to avoiding social isolation.
Various applications and services, largely based on a combination of ambient intelligence, sensor networks, and communications technologies, already exist that can support the elderly. Wearable devices remotely monitor blood pressure, breathing, and physical activity. Smart home systems can automatically control lighting, room temperature, and humidity. And communications and location-based technologies are helping everyone stay in touch with family and friends, work remotely, and find their way around.
“There are lots of technologies out there, but many are proprietary or they are not designed to be interoperable. This creates a lot of challenges, increases the cost of implementation, and often makes assisted living systems difficult to install and use”, explained Silvio Bonfiglio, New Business Opportunities Manager at Fimi, an Italian technology company. Bonfiglio coordinated the Oasis project [“Open architecture for Accessible Services Integration and Standardisation”], which addresses interoperability in the context of applications and services designed for seniors.
“We wanted to ensure that systems and the data and content they generate are interoperable, that they can all work together seamlessly to provide a range of services to the end user in a transparent way”, Bonfiglio continued. “If you have one sensor for service A that reads room temperature information for example, why should you have to install another room temperature sensor for service B? That's just not efficient.”
The Oasis consortium, composed of 33 partners from Europe, China, and Mexico and supported by EUR 8.5 million in funding from the European Commission, addressed the challenge of interoperability by developing an ontology-driven architecture framework specifically for ambient assisted living applications.
Based on the Common Algebraic Specification Language (CASL), the common ontological framework can be described as a “hyper-ontology” – an open, modular, holistic, easy-to-use, and standards-abiding way of describing a shared concept of applications and services. In practice, the approach means that software and systems can share data and interoperate seamlessly even if they have different application domains and are designed by different developers.
Open architecture allows for plethora of applications
“For example, one service might monitor the health of an older person suffering from diabetes, while another service could help him plan his diet”, explained the manager; “by ensuring interoperability and data sharing between the two services, the diet application knows how to adjust the person's food intake depending on his health. This, in turn, could be linked to an activity monitoring application that might tell the diet tool to prompt the user to drink more liquids or eat certain food after a period of physical exertion.”
The Oasis ontological framework supports the Oasis open reference architecture, enabling the automatic or semi-automatic connection of services and applications. The Oasis platform, which manages the services, provides user interfaces for the applications, and automatically adapts them to different devices, usage contexts, and user preferences.
To test the technology, the team implemented 12 different types of applications, all of them integrated in the Oasis architecture and covering a range of scenarios and use cases including independent living services, socialization tools, mobility services, and smart workplaces. Trials were conducted with hundreds of end users, mostly people over the age of 65 and care providers, at four sites in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and at a combined site covering Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania.
Feedback from users was generally positive, according to Bonfiglio. They particularly valued applications related to monitoring their health, as that is often the issue they are most concerned about. “The biggest challenge and innovation”, he emphasized, “was getting all the applications to work together”.
Meanwhile, project partners such as Vodafone, FIMI Barco, FIAT, Mizar, and PTV are likely to also exploit elements of the Oasis research in their products.