OLDES: a Low Cost System for Caring

Massimo Busuoli – ENEA EU Liaison Office Bruxelles; Teresa Gallelli – CUP2000

The number of senior citizens in the EU is dramatically increasing and the related burden in terms of public expense is getting higher and higher – these are the two main reasons motivating OLDES – Older peoples’ e-services at home (www.oldes.eu), a 3 year project funded under the EU’s VI Framework programme/IST initiative.

Today an increasing number of elderly people are living alone, in many cases with no families helping them and not enough money to afford private carers. OLDES will work to plan and implement an easy-to-use low cost innovative technological platform. The platform will be tested by 100 elderly people in Italy (10 of them affected by heart disease) and a sample of diabetics patients in Prague.

This project is strongly supported by Bologna Town Council; its Health Department believes that the welfare model has to be renewed rapidly, making the most of new technologies and high tech devices to offer tele-medicine, tele-assistance, tele-entertainment and tele-company services to a wider number of senior citizens. The aim is to augment the number of people assisted by public services, even if public resources decrease while the number of elderly increases.

OLDES aims at creating an infrastructure of channels. The project is considering three main categories for care:

  • entertainment and companionship;
  • clinical monitoring;
  • domestic monitoring.

The project will define an innovative and alternative welfare system in which technology will be customised according to user needs and employed on a large scale. In the OLDES vision, in the future, all elderly people living in cities and suburban areas can be tele-assisted, contributing greatly to a simplification and systemisation of social services and saving public money. The technological solutions proposed by OLDES will allow the elderly and their families to live more serenely in their own homes, without burdening society with too high costs.

OLDES will be an easy-to-use, plug and play system with different costing levels, according to the profile of the person assisted:

  • a base level (available for everyone) which includes the communication and tele-company and which will be simply based on a low cost PC and open source SW with a target price of around € 100 per person (corresponding to Negroponte’s paradigm of a € 100 device);
  • an intermediate level with the addition of simple sensors (such as, for example, to measure the ambient temperature) for the management of generic monitoring situations (i.e. very hot periods in the summer)
  • an upper and tailored level with an addition of health monitoring sensors depending on the health profile of the user.

The starting point will be the construction of usage scenarios which help to produce results that are of wider interest and applicability on a European scale. For this reason, OLDES will perform a market study based on two strategies:

  • The development and progressive refinement of a set of generic usage and provision models.
  • A service component approach to the packaging of technical developments to ensure maximum flexibility and configurability.

For products, technologies and services that support the provision of social care, market analysis and exploitation planning is more complex than when commercialising a device or testing a medical or therapeutic procedure. In order to address the diversity in the context, provision and funding of care services, the project will generate a set of care delivery models which are grounded in practice but are sufficiently generic to provide a framework for the deployment of the OLDES components. These models are an essential component of the wider concept of the OLDES Architecture and their evolution and refinement is a process which will continue throughout the life of the project. They are both conceptual and descriptive but must also provide quantitative data upon which service and business planning may be based.

The usage and provision models provide one mechanism for addressing the diversity of the “market” which OLDES is addressing. To maximise the flexibility and, therefore, exploitability of the products of the project, it is also required that our technical outputs are packaged appropriately into highly configurable service components. We use the term “service” both in the sense of client service to older people and also in the sense of technical service component as part of a systems infrastructure. The service-oriented approach employs a simulation and interactive development strategy by which real service components replace simulated ones in an evolving reference implementation.

The combination of an essentially infrastructural service-oriented approach and the potential for innovation and change mean that conventional market analysis models are of limited applicability to OLDES. These assume that evidence of demand, as opposed to latent need, can be readily elicited through conventional market research techniques. Such approaches are not only of limited applicability to public service contexts but can, in fact, be misleading. Conventional market analysis can only operate in the incremental development mode and cannot cope with propositions which may, for example, fundamentally change the shape of the provision value chain.

The approach to be adopted by OLDES of incremental development, client and user participation and the use of animation and simulation in a reference implementation context is designed to ensure that possibilities for change remain open while development is, at all stages, grounded in the realties of social care, the cultures and economies of the specific pilot contexts and as wide a range as possible of other European public service contexts.

Massimo Busuoli – OLDES project coordinator
ENEA EU Liaison Office – Bruxelles