ICT industries - rising to the assisted living challenge

I had the pleasure of being a speaker at an ICT industries prompted event held at the BIS conference centre a couple of weeks ago. The objective of the conference was for business to meet with representatives from across the public sector and promote the capabilities of the ICT sector in contributing to public sector challenges, and in particular to reinforce the importance of continued investment through their respective R&D centres. Entitled ‘Think Digital - Technology for Britain's Future,' the conference was well attended, with around 150 people from across business and the public sector. The lead companies there were the R&D representatives of HP Labs; Microsoft; Phillips R&D; Vodafone and BT who all took advantage of the exhibition space to show off some of their latest R&D capabilities. Of particular note to me was HP Labs' work on trusted computing from their Systems Security Labs, closely linked with our Network Security Innovation Platform,  and Microsoft's work on medical imaging enabling automatic and semi-automatic analysis of medical images, providing the potential to detect possible tumours and increase the efficiency of radiologists and clinicians.

In the opening speech Stephen Timms, the Minister for Digital Britain, highlighted the importance of the ICT industry to the UK, noting that too often we take it a little too much for granted. It was pleasing to hear him acknowledge the role of the Technology Strategy Board within Government initiatives to support the ICT Industries. This is done through our Collaborative R&D programmes, our Digital Britain initiatives and most importantly through links back to the work of our Innovation Platforms in promoting challenge-led innovation.

Indeed it was that comment which provoked this write-up. I believe there is a huge opportunity for the ICT Industries around our Innovation Platforms. ICT is pervasive across all our challenges and the ICT industry needs to look beyond competitions simplistically labeled as ICT Collaborative R&D. Indeed, the presentations given to the conference from industry set that agenda quite clearly for themselves - reinforced perhaps most forcibly by the Assisted Living technology developments and opportunities presented by Phillips.

It was back in November 2007 that John Denham launched our Assisted Living Innovation Platform at our Innovate'07 conference. The aim of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform is to make significant advances in the technology needed to enable people who suffer from chronic long term conditions to live independently. There is no doubt that businesses, research organisations and universities do recognise the generic opportunity that exists - perhaps best characterised by the United Nations question posed back in 2003:

 "What will we do when the old outnumber the young? The world's age profile is changing - by 2050, more than a third of the world population will be over 65.  The fastest growing group is those 85 and over, meaning that by 2050 there will be more than 4 people over the age of 80 for every child. "

I think the time has come, however, to make more of the detailed opportunities and start moving up a gear in communication around our own progress. For example there have been a number of developments in the last 12 months worth noting - the establishment of the Assisted Living Knowledge Transfer programme to be run by the HealthTech and Medicines Knowledge Transfer Network together with an  Assistive Technologies Special Interest Group, and the support to the European Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) competition with its emphasis on integrating the required technologies and exploring new ways for the inclusion of user needs into relevant products and services. We have also recognized success, for example through the Technology Strategy Board Award for Independent Living at the Helen Hamlyn Design Awards 2009 which went to Menno Kroezen from the RCA for the project Touch&Turn: cooking for the blind, a new innovative cooking system specifically tailored to the needs of the blind and partially sighted.

From an ICT industries point of view there are significant opportunities around Assisted Living - from telecare or telehealth to using electronic health records to share information around healthcare providers, and from assisted living design-centred consumer products through to wi-fi devices around the home. These opportunities are recognised by business across the ICT and electronics sectors; I note there are around 250 companies signed up to the Electronic Special Interest Group, a portal for members of the medical and healthcare electronics community to come together with healthcare professionals and medical practitioners and identify market opportunities.

The development of an Assisted Living Directory to provide a current view of the assistive technology market, including a growing list of suppliers, demonstrators, and resources such as research papers, will also help bring market opportunities to the attention of business. Funded from the Assisted Living Knowledge Transfer programme, this directory will be continually updated with new information, resources and suppliers, and is a valuable resource for the assisted living technology market.

There is no shortage of conference and network opportunities in this area - for example the IMechE conference in November, ENGINEERING FOR THE AGEING POPULATION - CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES (10-11 Nov 09), the Independent Assisted Living (IAL) Conference, Stirling 1 Oct 09 or the Assisted Living Innovation Forum, 2 Dec 2009, Harrogate .

Our own Innovate 09 conference and exhibition on October 13th will also touch on these areas, with its areas of focus including Life Science and Digital Britain.

There is a real challenge to ensure the ageing population can retain increased levels of independence not just for their personal amenity, but to maintain the financial stability of our society. This situation is being addressed. In doing so there are real business opportunities not just in healthcare but in how transport, private homes and public infrastructure are being developed to meet this challenge.

In all of this the ICT industries have a vital part to play. The ‘Think Digital' conference opened my eyes to some of these future possibilities. I welcome the opportunity to work with his sector in identifying opportunities and in raising the profile of Assisted Living.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:12

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