Europe has a demographic timebomb by which the number of dependent elderly and disabled is rising strongly, with no end in sight. Current statistics are shown below.
Approximate proportion of the population who have disabilities which are likely to affect their use of ambient intelligent systems (NB do not aggregate the figures since multiple impairments are common)
Source: COST office 2008
The European Commission is therefore strongly backing what it calls ambient intelligence AMI, particularly as applied to the disabled. Printed electronics will be central in realising these ambitious concepts for unobtrusive devices, including ones that are handheld or wearable. AMI is defined as where people are surrounded by intelligent intuitive interfaces that are embedded in all kinds of objects and an environment that is capable of recognising and responding to the presence of different individuals in a seamless, unobtrusive and often invisible way.
It will facilitate human contacts, be oriented towards community and cultural enhancement, help build knowledge and skills for work, citizenship and consumer choice, inspire trust and confidence, be consistent with long term sustainability - personal, societal and environmental - and with lifelong learning. It will be controllable by ordinary people, with a redefinition of the human interface.
- Embedded intelligence
- Middleware and distributed systems
- IP mobile and wireless
- Multi-domain network management
- Converging core and access networks
- Micro and opto-electronics
- Trust and confidence enabling tools
- Cross media content
- Multi-modal and adaptive interfaces
- Multi-lingual dialogue mode
It will even include voice recognition of people with cerebral palsy and real time translation of conversation in different languages. Vibrating (eg electroactive) materials will be used for those with poor hearing. Materials sensing touch will also be used.
The developers add that "Global positioning systems (GPS) are likely to become standard in many devices and services. This will solve the problem of tracing people and will help in navigation (eg for people who cannot see). However, to be useful in all environments, GPS localisation should be integrated by the deployment of networks of sensors in closed spaces.
Smart tags can signal the presence of objects and provide detailed information about them. For example, a person who cannot see could be directly informed about the items on the shelves of a supermarket. At home, the same person could be able to locate small objects, such as a box of pills or spectacles, and have information about the medication and the dosage. The pill box could also be authorised to make the person aware of its presence.
Gesture recognition can be used to implement virtual keyboards and pointing devices, and to produce interfaces for the manipulation of objects on the screen. Traditional switches could become virtual switches. Interfaces based on the recognition of lip movements or sign-language could also be conceived. Correspondingly, animation technology could be used to produce avatars able to sign or to move lips for lip reading.
Visualisation technologies are considered of paramount importance. Screens should be available everywhere. New materials will produce screens that are lightweight and foldable and follow the user (nomadicity and availability). Alternatively, the presentation screen could be virtual, using projection systems, and the presentation of 3-D information should be possible."
The work is supported by the European COST initiative.
COST - the acronym for European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research - is the oldest and widest European intergovernmental network for cooperation in research. Established by the Ministerial Conference in November 1971, COST is presently used by the scientific communities of 35 European countries to cooperate in common research projects supported by national funds.
The funds provided by COST - less than 1% of the total value of the projects - support the COST cooperation networks (COST Actions). With 30 million Euros per year, more than 30,000 European scientists are involved in research having a total value which exceeds 2 billion Euros per year. This is the financial worth of the European added value which COST achieves.
A 'bottom up approach' (the initiative of launching a COST Action comes from the European scientists themselves), 'à la carte participation' (only countries interested in the Action participate), 'equality of access' (participation is open also to the scientific communities of countries not belonging to the European Union) and 'flexible structure' (easy implementation and light management of the research initiatives) are the main characteristics of COST.
As precursor of advanced multidisciplinary research COST has a very important role for the realisation of the European Research Area anticipating and complementing the activities of the Framework Programmes, constituting a 'bridge' towards the scientific communities of emerging countries, increasing the mobility of researchers across Europe and fostering the establishment of 'Networks of Excellence' in many key scientific domains such as: Biomedicine and Molecular Biosciences; Food and Agriculture; Forests, their Products and Services; Materials, Physical and Nanosciences; Chemistry and Molecular Sciences and Technologies; Earth System Science and Environmental Management; Information and Communication Technologies; Transport and Urban Development; Individuals, Societies, Cultures and Health. It covers basic and more applied research and also addresses issues of pre-normative nature or of societal importance.
The main objective of this Action is to increase the accessibility of next generation telecommunication network services and equipment to elderly people and people with disabilities by design or, alternatively, by adaptation when required.