AAL Living Lab: research, education and raising awareness
AAL Living Lab: research, education and raising awareness
Interview with Alexander Karl, Laboratory Engineer at AAL Living Lab, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Kempten University of Applied Sciences
Smart home systems are a perfect example of how technology can make our daily lives easier. The fact that they can use a tablet to adjust lighting and blinds in every room benefits older adults in more ways than one. These types of technical systems are a part of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) and create a safe living environment for older persons.
Alexander Karl, Laboratory Engineer at AAL Living Lab, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Kempten University of Applied Sciences
In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Alexander Karl talks about the AAL Living Lab at Kempten University, details the variety of technology-based assistance systems and explains why it is important to raise awareness about this issue.
Mr. Karl, you have designed the AAL Living Lab at the Kempten University. What is that exactly?
Alexander Karl: The AAL Living Lab is a residential living laboratory located in a retirement home that we have equipped with various technology-based assistance systems to enable older persons or people with physical impairments to live in their own homes. Apart from their use in privately owned environments, the systems can also be applied in care facilities. We offer a wide range of intelligent solutions for the home environment. This includes both technology-based and non-technical systems and as such consist of floor sensor systems for fall detection, but also simple safety grab bars.
In the research apartment there is also a bed with a stand-up function. This allows the user to move from a lying position to a standing position without having to work with physical strength.
What types of systems are those in particular? How do they support older adults or people who need care?
Karl: The technology-based assistance systems support a variety of living spaces. For example, our kitchen design accommodates the needs of different people, including those in wheelchairs. The kitchen’s upper cabinets and countertop are height adjustable. We also use this technology for the bathroom vanity and mirror, which can adjust to preset heights at the touch of a button. The bathroom also features a smart toilet that can track multiple medical parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate or oxygen saturation. A touch screen in the living room provides control of the lighting and heating systems and the blinds in each room. As part of our human subject research with elderly subjects, we designed a user interface that is easy to use and contains only the most important functions.
What's more, we installed biodynamic lighting in the living room, designed to support the circadian rhythms of older adults. The light features a warm tone in the morning, gradually switches to cooler tones throughout the day and back to a warmer tone in the evening. The bedroom has a stand assist bed, allowing the user to change from a lying to an upright standing position without the need to exert physical strength – benefitting both seniors and caregivers. There are also fall prevention components. The mobile wall units and curtain rods are accessible by users of all heights without the use of a chair that might cause older adults to slip and fall.
Having said that, not all senior apartments require all of these systems. Settings depend on the disease, the specific needs and – obviously – hinge on financial facets. Technical support must be as unique as each human being.
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In the AAL Living Lab at Kempten University, not only are existing assistance systems tested and further developed, but new products are also developed from scratch. One example is the intelligent toilet, which can measure vital functions.
The AAL Living Lab is a residential living laboratory. What are your objectives?
Karl: On the one hand, we use the Living Lab to put technology-based assistance systems that are already available in the marketplace through their paces to determine what actually makes sense and which systems need further improvement. On the other hand, as a university, we aim to further enhance assisting technologies by incorporating the advantages of already existing systems. When it comes to our own ideas, we create new products from scratch, like our smart toilet.
Moreover, we want to educate future professionals on AAL, a subject that is increasingly the center of attention in society, in politics and in business. We also raise awareness among the community by offering public tours of the Living Lab. The goal is to educate people about aspects that are already technically feasible and talk about technical or intelligent solutions that are available on the market.
We also collaborate with various partners in the real estate industry, senior care facilities and caregivers. Our project aims to bring the different stakeholders together to jointly develop innovative solutions.
Products and exhibitors related to AAL
Exhibitors and products for self-determined life, safety and technology in care can be found in the catalog of MEDICA 2019:
You mentioned raising awareness – in what way does the mindset toward this subject still need to change?
Karl: We still have to overcome multiple barriers in this area. AAL is more or less a new issue for everyone involved – policy-makers, health insurance providers and caregivers. The latter tend to be skeptical about technology-based assistance systems. Even insurance companies have not yet fully broached the subject. This is where I still see a great need for improvement as health insurance companies also stand to benefit when people are able to live longer in their own homes and don't need inpatient care settings.
Apart from that, there are also technical barriers and challenges. This pertains to communication between devices for example. Manufacturers use their own language, which makes networking of systems from different manufacturers more difficult. Needless to say, data protection also plays a key role, while ethical concerns must yet be resolved. As you can see, there are still many issues that have to be addressed.
The interview was conducted by Elena Blume and translated from German by Elena O'Meara. MEDICA-tradefair.com