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10th December 2009, 3:32pm
Research will help vulnerable people stay safe
mobility Mobility scooters could be fitted with tracking technology to help older and vulnerable people leave their homes without fear of getting lost.

Researchers at University of Lincoln and De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) aim to develop a device that fits into scooters and updates local authority care providers of the person’s location using mobile phone technology.

Dr Amr Ahmed, of the University of Lincoln, and DMU’s Dr Eric Goodyer are leading the project, entitled ‘Integrating mobility vehicles and devices with smart homes’, which is funded by a £40,000 Higher Education Collaboration (HEI) Grant from the Transport innovation Network (iNet).

Assisted-living technology enables many older people to choose to continue living independently in their own homes. Systems can range from simple pendant alarms to more complex devices which monitor behaviour and can raise the alarm in the event of falls or medical emergencies.

Most assisted-living technology is intended to help a person feel secure within their own home, but Dr Goodyer and Dr Ahmed believe it is important that people are able to feel safe when they leave the house too. The device will enable care staff to locate the person should an emergency arise while they are away from their home and then send assistance to them. The use of mobile phone technology to assist people when they are away from their homes is known as mobile telecare.

Dr Ahmed said: “The digital era and the increasing number of online services mean that more support is available to help older people maintain a lifestyle that is as independent as possible. This support should cover not only activities within the house, but those outside it as well.

“Out-of-house activities are important as they contribute to reducing the social isolation and relative lack of self-confidence that many older people fall into when they are limited to the boundaries of their homes, especially if they have previously led an active life. However, this is an area that hasn’t received as much attention as the issue of helping people within the home.

“We will explore the support that technology can offer older people in going out and doing common activities such as shopping. Given the availability of various sensors and assistive home networks, integrating those and effectively communicating with them would provide assistance and encouragement for older people to continue enjoying a healthy social life.”

Dr Goodyer said: “We do not want people’s homes to become prisons. We want to extend home-based telecare into mobile telecare devices so that support can still be available when older people go out of the house and they can continue living normal lives in the community.

“During this project we will develop an electronic device that fits neatly into a standard mobility scooter, and will monitor the user’s location and well-being. The device will connect to the remote care provider using mobile phone technology and a tracker device will be used to locate them. Once they return home the device will then connect the mobility scooter into the user's home telecare network using a private radio connection.”

Dr Ahmed and Dr Goodyer will also explore the feasibility of developing a generic hardware and software interface that could be used in mobile telecare devices to ensure there is an open standard.

The Transport iNet Director, John Frodsham, said: “This HEI grant gives the universities resources to work together - proving an innovative concept that doesn’t yet exist. It’s exciting to think that by integrating some existing and new technologies the work could open up possibilities which East Midlands companies can exploit, potentially leading to business opportunities in new applications  which will also have a growing societal benefit.”

The Transport iNet is one of four sector based networks established to encourage innovation stakeholders to undertake innovative activities. Innovation stakeholders include small and large businesses, universities and colleges, representatives of the public sector and individuals with an interest in innovation. It is funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The aim of Transport iNet is to increase the level of innovation in the East Midlands helping to improve business competitiveness, margins, sustainability and growth. It allows individual sectors to work together, share ideas, technologies, intelligence, innovation and create a link between operational industries and the academic community.

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