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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced £20 million for more than 25 projects to develop products and services that support healthy ageing, which include assistive technology innovations that facilitate independent living.

Among the successful bidders for the first stage funding include real-time monitoring technology for continence care, a smart navigation aid for individuals with vision impairments, a health management wearable, and a smart home solution that reduces isolation.

Winning teams are from the private and public sector, including academia.

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Science Minister George Freeman said: “Today’s winning projects, backed by £20 million government funding and co-designed with older people, will pioneer the use of the latest technologies, from power-assisted exercise machines to smart navigation systems for the visually impaired, to meet the needs of Britain’s older generations.

“It is our firm ambition to ensure that the success of these projects also encourages businesses and academics across the country to develop ideas and technologies fit for our ageing population, improving our health and quality of life while building on the UK’s reputation as an innovation nation.”

The Designed for Ageing awards are the latest to be made by the UKRI healthy ageing challenge.

The successful projects have committed to co-design with future users and to demonstrate progress at a ‘design stage gate’ after six months. This commitment to co-design gives the projects the greatest possible chance of success in meeting the needs of older people.

One of the successful assistive technology inventions in the first stage is called WeWalk, an indoor or outdoor smart navigation aid for visually impaired people. It fits onto a cane to provide audio-based assistance, detecting obstacles and connecting through a user’s smartphone to integrate with online mapping services.

Connected Health is improving dignity for incontinence patients by alerting carers to issues in real time, using a remote monitor, preventing associated complications and personal discomfort

Additionally, Smplicare will integrate wearables and digital health devices to help people track the information and insights they need to proactively manage their health.

The aims of the Designed for Ageing Awards are to encourage collaboration between academia and business; support an evidence-based approach to innovation; create more and better services which support people as they age to remain active, independent, and socially connected; support business-led, near-to-market innovations that have potential to scale; ensure that best practice in people-centred, inclusive design is applied; and encourage applications from businesses across the UK, by working with devolved government administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Another successful project is PPP Taking Care, which will demonstrate and evaluate the use of an in-home alarm to reduce the risk of falls and improve wellbeing for over 65s who have already had two falls or more.

George MacGinnis, Healthy Ageing Challenge Director at UKRI, said: “Many of us are living for longer and want to make the most of the opportunities in later life, which can include continuing to work and volunteer.

“Despite this, the market for products and services which genuinely meet the needs of older people is underdeveloped.

“Innovators need a better understanding of the rich and varied lives people lead as they age, moving away from a utilitarian view of providing only what they think older people need.

“That is why a commitment to inclusive design is so important; it provides an understanding of how people want to live their lives and what they would most like to do to make the most of their time.”

The healthy ageing challenge is funded by UKRI and delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Koalaa Kommunits, a soft-orthotics service to help the over 50s adapt to upper-limb impairment and remain mobile, active and socially connected in the community, is also receiving funding.

See the full list of projects that are receiving projects here.

A £4.1 million prize was recently unveiled that seeks personalised assistive technology innovations that help people with dementia to remain independent in their own homes. It will launch in September 2022.

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