Heriot-Watt University National Robotarium image

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University are launching what they believe is the world’s first open and remote access living lab to research and create solutions for Ambient Assisted Living (OpenAAL).

The multi-disciplinary lab will target the rapid co-creation of scalable and affordable assistive technology solutions to support the care of vulnerable people whose urgent need has been exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University, the OpenAAL lab will use digital twin, Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud technologies to provide a platform where researchers, care providers and users of assisted living services can develop technology collaboratively.

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The platform, which utilises the facilities from Heriot-Watt’s existing living lab – a complete flat with adjoining workshop – will ensure both time and distance are no longer barriers to research and innovation.

Heriot-Watt’s technologies can be used to facilitate non-intrusive monitoring of behaviour and vital signs as well as to detect trends in behaviour and individual health statuses.

The project will initially support key priority groups in the UK whose conditions have been compounded by the social isolation measures necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak. These include those with multi-morbidity conditions, disabilities, and those in acute stages of mental ill-health.

Dr Mauro Dragone, Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Our priority is to ensure the devised solutions are practical and feasible, so they can be quickly implemented in the face of challenging social and economic conditions. There is huge potential to unify efforts and provide better support to the nation’s most vulnerable at this time.

“By combining the University’s unique laboratories with expertise in the care sector, we have the opportunity to tackle the current challenges head-on, but also establish long-term and cost-effective solutions to the wider challenges faced by individuals with assisted living needs in the home.

“Successful innovation in this field is crucial to alleviate the strain on our health and social care services and enhance the resilience of our communities. By collaborating across sectors and mobilising Scotland’s ground-breaking technology, this project has the potential to bridge considerable gaps in communication, break down institutional silos and facilitate wide-scale industry cooperation.”

Funded by EPSRC under the Impact Acceleration Accounts scheme, the project has gained support from NHS Lothian, The Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI), Blackwood Home and Care Group, Consequential Robotics, Alcuris Ltd, Cyberselves and The Data Lab. The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS) will also play a key role in connecting the project to members in its supporting organisations.

National Service Veteran David Weir, 87, is registered blind.

Discussing some of his everyday challenges and how assistive technology could help him around the home, David commented: “At present, I can accept an incoming video call but can’t easily place one, even with the benefit of voice activation. Smart home technologies are of particular interest. For example, I have a digital thermostat, but I can’t read the digital display and setting the temperature on the cooker and grill is extremely difficult.

“During lockdown, shopping online has become even more important, but all websites are designed differently and navigating them, even with text-to-speech capabilities, is tough. If I touch the wrong area of the website for more information, I can end up lost and I can’t navigate back.

“Having the opportunity to interact with researchers in the course of their work will be really beneficial to end users like me.”

The assisted living lab is welcoming support from producers, suppliers and service companies of assistive technology, telecare, telehealth, smart home solutions, and other IoT products.

Heriot-Watt hopes that, as the project expands, researchers across the globe will use the lab to collaborate.

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