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DALi - Devices for Assisted Living

01.11.2011 - 31.10.2014

Ageing is generally associated with a decrease in mobility and social interaction. A growing body of research suggests that reduced levels of out-of-home mobility can have widespread, detrimental effects for older adults. Adults for whom mobility is a problem suffer in a variety of ways. Not only are their social lives restricted but they are also more limited in terms of their access to good nutrition, leisure and other activities. For example people with restricted mobility have fewer choices in terms of where and when they can shop, and they have been found to experience problems in maintaining a balanced diet. Shopping has been found to be a useful way of maintaining physical exercise as well as providing the opportunity for social interaction. However, older adults can lose confidence in their ability to go out independently, particularly in unfamiliar and crowded spaces and may start to withdraw into their homes.

Several factors adversely affect mobility, the most obvious being physical impairment, loss or reduction of visual and auditory ability and of the key function of balance. Less recognised but as important is the decline of cognitive abilities, which reduces confidence in manoeuvring around unfamiliar environments. The slower reaction to external stimuli and the diminished navigation skills can be predictors of the onset of more severe cognitive problems. With the median age in Europe projected to grow from 37.7 (2003) to 52.3 (2050), the population of potentially afflicted people is substantial.

In this context, sustained levels of physical and social activity by a prolonged autonomous mobility are key to successful ageing. In this project, we pursue autonomous mobility through the development of the so-called c-walker. This mobility aid supports navigation in crowded and unstructured spaces by acquiring sensory information, by anticipating the intent of human agents and by deciding the path that minimises the risk of accidents. The c-walker is aimed at providing physical, cognitive and emotional support to older adults in public environments such as shopping centres and airports. Its expected benefits are a reduction in the anxiety of navigating in these environments and an increased likelihood of continued autonomous use of these environments. The c-Walker has a merely assistive role: it recommends a course to the user through visual, acoustic and haptic interfaces. The user remains in charge of final decision making.

The c-Walker is the expected result of a multidisciplinary research, with an active involvement of the end user in the RTD activities to elicit requirements, co-define the specifications, monitor and test the project (through an advisory panel) and the prototype (through lab and field experiments). The intended users of the c-walker are older adults, who have a combination of mild cognitive, visual and/or auditory impairments and are losing confidence in independent exploration of public environments.

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° ICT-2011-288917

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