Mobile despite geriatric problems: Assistance system whets the appetite for undertakings outside one's home

Dresden, / 6.11.2013

The ability to get about safely on one's own in daily life is a basic prerequisite for freedom and self-determination. Health problems, decreasing mobility, poorer sight and hearing, blackouts, disorientation. All of these are geriatric problems that restrict mobility in older age and lower the quality of life. A mobility assistant developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS with six partners in a joint research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) should help reduce risks during activities out of the home and encourage older people to become more mobile.

The functions are selected by pressing the particular button on the touchscreen of the mobility assistent.

The loss of mobility is one of the biggest risks in old age. The restriction of one's activities through a fear of falling and the associated loss of social contacts, for example, leads to isolation. Increasing health problems or the decline in cognitive faculties such as concentration, perception, recollection and orientation prevent senior citizens from taking an active role in public and cultural life. Their mobility outside their own four walls is increasingly limited to only the most essential journeys in their familiar neighborhood. One of the main reasons for this is in the fear of getting lost in unknown terrain and of no longer being able to find one's way home. But the fear of accidents or medical emergencies also plays a big part. Factors such as stress and darkness as well impaired vision also increase the feeling of unease.

In order to help older people retain their mobility outside their own home, the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS is cooperating with six partners in the development of a mobility assistant that is optimally matched to the needs of the 65+ generation. Within the scope of a joint research project, an intelligent assistance system is being developed that will help senior citizens continue to live their normal life up to a very advanced age with no restrictions on their mobility. The system solution that has been developed consists of a portable terminal device with a corresponding central server that can be accessed by all system users. Data is transferred by means of mobile radio. »Compared to other commercially available devices such as mobile phones especially for senior citizen or for emergency calls, which very often smack of stigmatization, we have taken a completely different approach.« says Dr. Andreas Heinig from the Wireless Microsystems business unit at the Fraunhofer IPMS and goes on to explain: »The mobility assistant aims to give older people a greater sense of security in everyday life through highly customized functions, whilst retaining an extremely simple operation. This is why the terminal device is based on a watch and only has a very few, but absolutely essential, basic functions.« These include, for example, a distress call function, a function to notify a person of trust, navigation support for the way home, a function to remind the user to take their medication or an automatic taxi call. Just which services are ultimately used depends on the wishes and needs of the senior citizen and these are then programmed in advance on the server. »The possibility of configuring an individual user profile means that each senior citizen is only shown those functions that are tailored to their needs on the mobile device. These functions can then be activated by pressing a single button.«, is how Dr. Heinig explains the big advantage of the system. Since it is quite common for older persons to suffer from poor vision, there is no small text information shown on the display. The touch screen that is used only shows the virtual buttons as corresponding icons. Entries have been consistently limited to two levels. The complete communication is by means of an integrated voice input/output. In order to enable external reactions in the event of an accident too, the mobility assistant will also be equipped with a fall detector.

The Fraunhofer IPMS is in charge of the system design for the portable terminal device, involving the development of the device software with display control and operation, inputs and outputs via microphone and loudspeaker and the corresponding realization of the sensor coupling for the fall detector. The Dresden Institute is also working on a solution for wireless communication between the device and server via Voice-over-IP as well as data transfer to the radio module.

The Fraunhofer IPMS will be presenting the system solution it has developed for the mobility assistant to the general public at the leading international trade fair for medical technology, electromedicine, laboratory equipment, diagnostic systems and medications, Medica, between 20 and 23 November 2013 in Düsseldorf. Visitors will find the exhibit on the joint stand of the Leipzig Chamber of Industry and Commerce in hall 3, booth E74.

The joint project is one of 14 pilot projects in the BMBF-funded project »Mobile to a very old age – seamless mobility chains to eliminate, circumnavigate and overcome barriers«. The funding of selected projects by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is part of the project »Living an independent life in old age too« and therefore a further step in the implementation of the high-tech strategy of the German federal government. Apart from the Fraunhofer IPMS, MasterSolution AG (Plauen), Binder-Elektronik GmbH (Sinsheim), WILDDESIGN GmbH & Co. KG (Gelsenkirchen), Dresdner Druck- und Verlagshaus GmbH & Co. KG (Dresden) as well as the University of the Federal Armed Forces Munich (Neubiberg) are also involved.

About Fraunhofer IPMS
The Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS and its 220 employees turn over an annual research volume of 22 million euros. Fraunhofer IPMS generates more than two thirds of this production capacity out of commissions from industry and publicly financed projects in applied research. The focus of our development and production services lies in the practical industrial application of unique technological know-how in the fields of (optical) micro-electromechanical systems [MEMS, MOEMS]. Fraunhofer IMPS uses scientific know-how, application experience and customer contacts as well as modern equipment and clean room infrastructure. Fraunhofer IPMS covers a broad spectrum of industrial applications. Our services range from initial conception to product development, right down to serial pilot production – from a single component to a complete system solution.